Thursday, December 29, 2005

Next stop Cambodia

Arriving back Bangkok once again I headed to my usual guesthouse and almost walked right past it. It had been totally renovated, unfortunately they didn't have any singles available so I searched on. It must be a busy time because a number of guest houses were full, but I wound up getting a room on Khao San rd. at Dio where I stayed my first night in Bangkok.

Apparently I'll be flying home sooner than expected which puts a crimp in my plans so I'm wondering around trying to decide how to spend my last weeks. Wrote Robin (met him in Czech. Rep.) as I know he is in Thailand. Got a report back that the weather and attitudes in Phuket were lousy and he was heading off to Cambodia. So I decide to skip Phuket. I guess I'll go do some more diving and head to the East coast islands again.

I was just getting things together for heading south when I walked out on the busy street and guess who I see. It's Robin and his friend Minesh (they met in S. America). Another unlikely reunion on the road. We took a taxi to the weekend market which is huge and very busy. Walked through the narrow labrinyths of cramped stalls selling food, clothes, souvenirs, etc.
Later that night we decided to give Thai boxing a look. So we went out to the stadium, but we couldn't get tickets for $6 like we were told. It was more like $60! Oh well, if you've seen one guy get the shit kicked out of him, you've seen them all.

The next night after I had got my ticket for the 7am bus to Cambodia we began by grabbing a table on the street and enjoyed some drinks while taking in the characters of Khoa San. Anna (Czech) and Dean (Irish) joined us for the evening. I learned that Dean is a walking catastrophe who has had most of his bones broken at least once and even had his face torn off once. He says that's why he looks young for his age (40)!! We went upstairs where Minesh managed to save a cute Belgium girl (Isabella) from her date. At closing we took them all to little Khao San to continue the flow of beer. Around 4am it was definately time to call it a night. I tried to get Isabella to come to Cambodia but she had to wait for some visas so Minesh will just have to work on her tomorrow. They have the luxury of another day before they fly while I'm getting on a bus in 3 hours.

Got to the bus stop in the morning and Shino (Japenese) reminded me about needing passport photos for the Cambodian Visa. Of course, I had forgotten about them, but luckily I still had a few with me. We had a very pleasant drive through the green landscape of Cambodia down to the border. Stopped on the Thai side for a change of bus and lunch. Paid about $5 too much for the "Express Visa service". But it was fast. In fact faster than my lunch which I had to shovel in to avoid missing the bus!!

Next was our walk across the border. Nothing out of the ordinary. But for God's sake don't get suckered into changing your money at the border like I did. A big rip off epecially considering that you can use the U.S. dollar everywhere in Laos contrary to what I was told. In fact, all the prices are in U.S. dollars!

So now we hop on to the Cambodian bus. Of course it is nowhere near as comfortable as the Thai bus. And you can't even compare the roads because there really almost isn't one. A year ago the 150km journey took 10-12 hours. Today it's a speedy 7 hour trip. Unpaved! A Free Vibrating Massage!

Made a stop three hours into the journey and met Migella. French with a sicilian family where she has been working as a tour guide. Says the Italians "Break her balls!". Later we made another very short stop I think to say hello to the bus drivers cousin. We stepped out of the bus and were greeted by a handful of cheery young girls all very cheeky. They'd put out there hand out to shake and take it away at the last second and run it thru there hair. Point to your chest and say "what's this?" flicking your nose if you look. They'd ask where you were from and then reel of the name of your capitol. Very smart and friendly. One gave me a friendship bracelot.
Arriving in Siem Reap around 8:30pm we dropped off most of the passengers and then the last four of us were dropped off at the Golden Temple Villa. A nice place. Spotless rooms, bathroom with tub!, cable TV, balcony, and a really good restaurant.

When I got down from my room the three Japanese guys were negotiating with a tourist agent about getting a temple tour and subsequent nights at the hotel. They did pretty well. So we booked a driver for the following day and sat down for some food. Oddly enough there was very little in the way of Cambodian food on the menu so we all got pizzas and pasta along with Beer Laos which are really quite nice. Shino has lived and worked in the US but the other two guys were pretty shy about speaking English. Despite this we had a pleasant dinner and taught each other a few words.

Then we were off to get some rest for we were to leave for the Temples of Angkor at 5am to catch the sunrise. After morning coffee we arrived at the Temples area and each paid the steep entrance fee of $20. In the pitch black we walk along side thousands of other tourists, mostly Japanese. Sat in front of the silhouetted spires in contemplation awaiting the sun's daily entrance. The sun rose behind the temple making it difficult to get good pics, but it was a nice one although not breathtaking.
The main temple (Angkor) and ground takes up a huge amount of space. There is the main structure, a few smaller structures, lotus ponds, many buddha statues, and bas-reliefs telling of the king and his exploits. These temples were built under Hindu influences, but later when the buddhists moved in it must have been difficult for the monks to continually walk past the thousands of voluptuous half naked female bas -reliefs throughout the temple.

After breakfast we continued on to discover the other smaller yet no less impressive temples. We had a bus and driver so we skipped the elephant ride. We climbed lots of steps that day. Steep and narrow ones. You really had to climb them sideways because you could only get half you r foot on them. All in all I think we saw 8 or 9 temples. In the afternoon our driver who used to be a landmine worker until they cut his salary took us back for lunch and a short break.
Just before sundown we headed back to climb a small mountain for sunset. It was nearly standing room only. Sunset was nice, but again not spectacular. In fact, I got nicer pics after the sun had set and darkness settled in.
On the way back we stopped at our travel agents office and Ms. Meas Kanha offered me a job. I like to think it was because she is a shrewd business woman with an eye for talent, but it was probably just because I can speakith the kings Inglish;)

For more background info with a professional touch check out Robin's report at

See ya

Saturday, December 17, 2005

A Diving Mis-Adventure

Penny and his dad, I.P., picked me up in the morning and we drove to the dive shop to pick up our equipment. Then a leisurely drive to the Bunbury boat ramps and launched the 18' craft into the water.

As we cruised out to sea I thought it was the iced coffee that was making my stomach rumble, but with hindsight perhaps it was trying to tell me something else like "turn around!" And that is what I should have done the moment that I.P. dropped our dive buoy/flag overboard in 22meters of water with only 15 meters of weighted line! Gone! They just don't work very well when they're below water.
So I.P. hit the "Man overboard" on the GPS to mark the spot. No worries. I figured we'd jump over and retrieve the buoy. But no, apparently we weren't even at the right spot and so we moved. Leaving the buoy behind.

If I wasn't half asleep still I might then have realized that I had incorrectly assumed that because Penny was an experienced diver that his father had some experience also. Boy was I wrong.

So we got to the spot, geared up each complete with a speargun and crayfish snares and dove over. Penny took awhile getting down because of equalization problems, but that happens. We eventually had a good look around the shallow reef formations, but didn't see one cray! There was one group of very large fish I found which I took aim at, but Penny signaled not to shoot. I wasn't sure if it was because they weren't good eating or because those big fish might have towed me along for a considerable distance. As we'll later see, depending on the direction they would have dragged me, it might have been a good thing.

So we surfaced empty handed from our first dive, but what can you do. We then cruised to another spot and dove in for our second look. The pickings were scarce but we faired a little better this time bagging a cray and a pink snapper. I surfaced a little before Penny due to air usage and found that the boat wasn't where we left it?!? I.P. in his infinite wisdom broke the number one rule for a boat captain. He took up anchor and moved to do some fishing! And remember how he sunk our dive flag earlier.

Well a minute later Penny surfaced 50m from me. We both started waving and yelling to attract I.P.'s attention. I could have sworn that he waved back and then took up the anchor. The problem was that he then proceeded to drive off in the wrong direction.

Bewildered all we could do was wonder what the hell was going on in I.P.'s head. Probably not much more than hollow echoes of wind pass thru his ears. So Penny is yelling, screaming and calling his dad every name in the book. I'm floating and figuring that he will realize his mistake and turn around any second. But about a half hour later just as Penny stops his ranting we lost site of the boat completely and we knew we were in for a long day.

Two choices: 1)stay put or 2) swim for shore. Well the dunes on the shore didn't look to far so we opted for the swim. Incidently, earlier I.P. commented that we were close enough to shore to swim if anything happened. How prophetic! Unfortunately the dunes on the shore are about 100-150 ft. and very misleading. Throughout it all I just tried to remain equanimous and keep kicking, but of course it's naturally going to pop into your head that you are very definately shark bait at the moment.

Penny and I started a fair distance apart and although you're never supposed to leave your dive buddy, he opted for the everyman for himself theory. I was fully geared up and with fins that didn't do well on the surface and he started pulling away which at first didn't bother me because we honestly didn't think we were that far out. Boy were we wrong!

After about an hour with no boats in site I started wondering what the hell was going on. Surely I.P. must have raised an alarm. Then the wind started to pick up making the seas a little bit rough. After about 2 hours I started to get pissed. I got site of some trucks moving on the dunes, but you could barely make them out, driving home the fact that we were still very far away from shore. After 2.5 hours I was taking bets with myself on whether or not we could reach the shore by sunset. Lessening the odds was the fact that my body was starting to protest. Particularly my ankles, shins, hips and neck. It was at this point that I started debating whether or not to drop the gear to make better time.

Luckily I saw three boats cruising in a line further in shore. I knew or at least hoped they were looking for us. They were I.P., "Top Dog" and the sea rescue boat. The rescue boat actually had passed by Penny twice without spotting him cause all three guys aboard were staring straight out the windshield! Some really great rescue skills there. Penny was spotted first by the "Top Dog" skippered by Pete Cole who turned out to be good friends of the Guppy's. Shortly afterwards I was fished out of the water. A big "Good on ya" to Pete and his friend! We learned that the resuce helicoptor was minutes away from lifting off.

They radioed to the rescue boat that we were aboard and they asked what about our condition. Pete told them we were both safely enjoying a beer and so all three boats cruised back to harbor. But not before stopping along side some of Pete's mates who generously gave us a couple of fresh cray sandwiches to fuel up on.

Back on shore, while I stayed as far away from I.P. as I could to avoid strangling him we were greeted by Gup and Birch who had driven out to the beach to look for us when they heard we were lost. Of course we got on the piss right away. All that for 1 cray and 1 snapper!! They were tasty, but needless to say not worth it. But as with every drama it makes for a good story. And in the end we only suffered exhaustion and a sunburn.

Never did get an real appology! Did get a couple of bullshit versions printed in the paper. Apparently I.P. skewed the facts to try and save face. But the lies were transparent and everyone could see right through them. They lost more than a couple of friends over this episode.

So there you have it. My time in Australia. A lot of beer, a couple of girls, nice sites, fun parties, some surf, much hard work, mostly crappy weather, a car accident and getting lost at sea. I never would have thought that the most likely place to wind up using accident insurance would have be OZ!

Finally I would like to give huge thanks to The Guppys (and friends) for being so good to me. Unbelievably good! I owe you big!

Now it's back to Bangkok and then off to Cambodia.


Friday, December 09, 2005

Australia V

Had a normal day on Monday. On Tuesday Billy and I went down to Dunsborough to install a couple of windows and sliding glass doors. We disassembled all the pieces and packed them onto the ute and drove down. Arrived and inspected the gyprockers' work and found it amiss. They didn't finish it correctly with reveals and neither of the windows were cut right or even level for that matter so the windows aren't going to fit. One of the doors was alright but the other we had to do some work on to get it to fit. Oh well, I guess 1 out of 4 isn't bad. To make matters worse we realized that the screen doors we were given were the wrong size also. So we did all that we could and then stopped by on the way home at "The Shack". It's a $7 million beach front estate they're working on.

On thursday I was really feeling like going out, but after work Greg invited me over to meet his misses, Amanda, his mother-in-law and baby girl Lisa or "squid" as she is affectionately called. Had a few beers and was entertained by Greg's stoner cocateau.

On Friday we were flat out right up to the end of the day. Fifteen year old aboriginal Johnathon who is racking up some work experience was there to help us out though. Gup and I were planning on going up to visit his sister Kirsty on Rotto island for the weekend, but he had to work on Saturday. That in conjunction with the fact that Jame's Birthday party was canceled was enough to bag the trip. Which is a shame because I've heard really great things about that place.

Decided not to go out, but get some rest because Penny is picking me up at 6am for a surf. Checked out North/South point in the morning but they weren't happening. Another couple of spots also weren't happening except for one spot which was lit up! But too big for a 6'0" board so we wound up surfing Boranup again. This time it was much more set up with solid head high rights and lefts. Nice and glassy also for about an hour when the wind switched and chewed it up. Four by foured it out of there and enjoyed a nice sunny drive home. In the avo Penny and Gup went to a concert "a Day on the Green", but since I wasn't into the bands or the steep ticket price I decided to hang out with Birch, Joe and Amy. We hung out with his mate Matt and talked about going out, but never did. Eventually Gup and one of his sisters friends showed up, but didn't stay long. We were too pissed to drive home so Amy and I were given a spare bedroom to crash in. What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas :)

Next Monday was a killer. Did a few deliveries in the morning and then @ 2pm a forty foot sea container from Bali arrived packed to the gills with much too heavy items. Clint (on a bum knee he wrecked jumping his mini 125cc cycle), Wayne and I attacked it and had it unpacked in 3 hours. With only three tragedies: 2 beers split and Clint got his hand crushed a little bit. Nothing compared to his knee though! The next day I learned Wayne got shit from his girlfriend cause she thought he'd stayed late just drinking. If she had only known! Completely exhausted none of us made it passed 8:30 before going to bed.

The radio advertising for the Bali pieces started and on Friday they had sold $4000 worth of stuff before I even got there. Unfortunately that meant that less than an hour before knocking off we had to deliver some of the much too heavy features. As Greg and I pulled away he realized that he forgot his phone so we backed back in, retrieved the phone and then Ray decided at the last second to give us another Bali delivery on the opposite side of town. And at Beer O'clock on a Friday!!

So we loaded up and made the first delivery. Then off to the last one of the day. Well we pulled up to drop the thing off, but didn't get off that simply. The wife, the mother and the kids all really wanted it set up before the husband arrived. Not our job, but we gave in. Big mistake. The tube was too long. We tried cutting it but it wasn't rubber and just shattered. The pump was too big so the feature wouldn't set up right. And after several attempts to put it together we realized that the base had cracked. Some of the pieces are about as tough as crusty toothpaste regardless of their immense weight. So we were pissed and she was disappointed, but their is another one back at the workshop so we can do an exchange. Got back and managed to get one altogether and found a smaller water pump. The one we had been given looked something like Niagra falls. But by now it was past quitting time so we called it a day.

Earlier in the day I had gone to the post office and paid my $32 for a rock lobster fishing license because Penny is taking me diving for Crayfish Saturday morning. But I'll save that adventure (nay, fiasco) for the next blog. Let's just say for now that we made the newspapers.

PS. I'm back in Bangkok. I found out that my return ticket must be used earlier than expected. It turns out that it must be used one year from date of issue, not from the day the trip begins. So I'm changing plans as I write this. I'm leaning towards touring Laos and Cambodia and maybe finishing up with some time down in the islands, but anything can happen. Projected return date right now is Jan 20th, but I may extend that a week or two. I'll keep ya'll posted.
So stay tuned.

I guess this could be considered a season cliff hanger because if I head off tomorrow I may not be able to blog again for a while. Who knows what internet service is like in Laos/Cambodia??!!

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Margaret's, Moonshine and Music

So what started out as a two day job is actually a 5-6 day job, but there could be worse places to be than the picturesque wine country of Margaret River. Gup and I drove down together and two apprentices followed in their car. Billy brought up the rear with the flatbed truck loaded down with a couple tons of gyprock and such.

We arrived in the drizzly morning and had a peek at the main break. It was sort of small by Margaret’s standards. It was still a solid six foot though. Then Gup had to talk the apprentices to the worksite because they were lost. I think they may have a half of a brain between them. We had to wait for the rain to let up before we could completely unload the sheets of gyprock, but it wasn’t long before we got started.

We got a fair bit done, but the highlight of the day was provided by the owner’s parents. (The names have been changed to protect the innocent.) After work Tom and Toni treated us to a nice little sitdown. Toni had made up a snack tray and Tom brought out his moonshine. Really great stuff! Bourbons and whiskeys that put the big companies to shame. I’m spoiled now and don’t think I’ll ever be able to drink that mass produced swill ever again after sampling Tom’s creations. It can be done quicker, but it takes him about 3 weeks to make a batch due to the extra filtering. And it’s well worth the wait. I have to get a hold of a still. The difference really is like night and day. So shortly before we started seeing double we took our leave and went to check in to the Prevely Caravan Park, our home for the week. It was an OK cottage with a kitchen, bath and three bedrooms. The boys had the bunks in one room, Gup had a comfortable double bed in another room and I got the chilly outer room on a very chilly evening. There was an electric heater which I commandeered, but the power went out for the evening shortly after I went to bed so it was no help. Oh well, at least the café next door served up a lovely pizza.

Continued plugging away the next day, but things got a bit frustrating when the boys were having problems getting the measurements and cuts right on a tricky pyramid shaped ceiling with crossbeams to complicate matters. On the bright side Tom and Toni saved the day again providing snacks and homemade booze to cap off the day.

We arrived the next morning at 6:30am to make up for some lost time. After yesterday’s overpriced and mediocre breakfast took way to long to arrive, we decided to forgo breakfast, but Tom & Toni made us some coffees and breakfast sandwiches. So we worked through lunch fueled on that because it was taking too much time to finish the garage. In the end it turned out to be a 12 hour day with barely a break, but it went quickly and once again Tom & Toni came through with after work treats.

The next morning Pete came down to give us a hand flushing the rooms and we just made our 3pm deadline for finishing up. All that was left to do is the sanding and that can wait till Monday. So we packed up and I got a sandwich for the rainy ride back to Bunbury. Arrived at the workshop and joined the crew for some Bali Bingtangs. I was upset to see that they knocked out a wall while we were gone because I was looking forward to doing some of the smashing. But the new showroom is started to take shape. In fact the transformations which have taken place in the short time that I’ve been around is really remarkable.

On Saturday Dan & Mez came down from Perth for the weekend. First we all went to the factory to pick up some gear so Dan can do a repair. He needs to fix the hole he punched in his brother’s (Snail) ceiling in the excitement of the Grand Final Footy game. By the time Gup and I arrive, Dan has already mixed up enough mud to repair the whole ceiling! Gup winds up fixing the hole for them while we play with the dogs, kids and their toys.

Gup topped of the hole and then we left to top off the cooler with a box of Coronas. We drove out to Wellington Dam because it’s really beautiful up in that area and as a bonus we heard that the dam is overflowing from all the rain we’ve been getting. Well, it was beautiful, but it wasn’t overflowing. It was close though with the water right up to the brim. On the way back we stopped over at Penny’s for a beer and some prawns. Then we all split up to get showers before going to see Gyroscope @ The Prince. Two opening bands played as the bar filled up. Then Gyroscope who are getting a lot of airplay took the stage and performed a great set. It was a really good evening until towards the end when I got some heartburn from something spicy I ate. Then on top of that I got the hic-cups which exasperated things and on top of that my neck/shoulders really started bothering me. Needless to say by the end of the show I wasn’t really keen on keeping things going, but everyone else was so we wondered over to The Flemington. They kept drinking, but I downshifted to water. When it was time to go we had to line up in a huge cue for a taxi. Dan wasn’t pleased about that and made no attempt to hold in his contempt, but eventually we commandeered a ride in a taxi van with a lone guy heading to Karry Park and made it home.

The next morning I passed whatever was giving me heartburn, but my neck was extremely stiff and killing me. Went for a morning drive with Gup for some coffees and then came back to the house. We were just chillin comfortably on the Bali bamboo patio loungers when Joe and Amy showed up. They had been drinking all morning and were pretty pissed. Gup and Penny decided to go for a surf, but I decided to rest my neck and hang with the girls. And so another week has gone by……

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Australia IV

October 24, 2005

So I awoke and had an uneventful day. That is until Clint drove me home that evening. I thought NJ was the only place that had to deal with the infamous traffic circles. Nope. Western Australia has recently installed them everywhere!! And just like in NJ, most people here have no idea how to navigate them correctly. Here the bigger ones are two lanes all the way around and that is what contributed to this accident.

The first guy was already on the circle and beginnin his exit. The second guy was entering and nearly forced the first guy off into a fork in the road. The second guy then panicked and stop dead in the middle of the lane. Being focused on the veering car to the right, it was too late when Clint saw the moron who completely came to a stop for no good reason a few meters ahead of us. SCREECH, SKID, CRASH BOOM BAM. We got very intimate with the Nissan Patrol. One just like the Patrol Gup recently bought. Which is good for Gup because when I inspected the damage to the Patrol I couldn’t find any except for the shattered rear window glass on the ground. Tough trucks! Not so for the Triton truck we were driving. Smashed. It wound up being totaled. No injuries luckily. We all pulled over and Clint called the police. They asked if anyone was drunk or hurt because otherwise they won’t bother to come out to the scene. I guess they are too busy setting up the radar speed cameras! Or maybe they’re still very busy working on the latest serious crime case. Which probably happened 3-4 years ago! We got the Triton towed to the yard and Gup picked me up and we went to The Prince for a couple of beers. Gup’s parents are in Bali this week so they won’t find out about the loss until next week. The good news is that it was insured for $10,000. The bad news is that it was really only worth $1000.

To celebrate the conclusion of hump day we went to the Hiway Hotel. An interesting place. A raffle for a bottle of booze, free sausages to snack on, and a very large hottie in a bikini serving drinks. Then Gup wanted to meet a work mate of his over at The Prince so we did. Gup got to talking to cutie, Shauntele, a cocky and sort of annoying counselor of some sort. God help her victims, I mean patients. I was also introduced to her friend Bridget who was bartending, just finishing her shift and not at all annoying. We hung out till it was closing time and then continued to hang out, drink and play pool with Tim the closer. Eventually Gup wanted to leave but reckoned I should stay. So I did. But that just meant I got home at 2:30 am and very intoxicated on a school night. The next morning, needless to say, was difficult and I bonked hard at 2:30pm, but I made it through the day. Pay backs are a bitch.

Friday night we went with some of Gup’s mates to see Ash Grumfield at The Parade. He’s a pretty decent solo guitarist/vocalist, but I spent most of the time socializing. There I got to meet two of Gup’s uncles, among others. Including a nice Brazilian girl until Penny scared her off. Just another jealous married guy spoiling the single guys fun.

I found out that the job Gup was going to be working on down at Margaret River looks now like it won’t happen. So we probably won’t be moving down there. Which means I probably won’t re-up my visa for another 3 months. Besides winter is still hanging on and I’m starting to doubt if summer will ever even get here?! And when it does it’s being been predicted it’s going to be a record hot scorcher. And of course the swell will suffer.

Monday night we packed up some gear because we are headed down to Margaret River for the rest of the week. So as I’m sulking because I won’t get any Halloween candy this holiday due to the fact that the Aussies don’t celebrate it, we drove down south. It is however still a bit of a holiday here this year because the Melbourne Cup falls on this day. It’s “the race that stops the nation!!” And for a few minutes it actually does. Everyone seems glued to the race either via the media or the TAB off track betting sites. During lunch we went into town and thought we might place a bet. The lines at the TAB were out the door and our lunch hour would have expired before getting the bet in. One person reportedly laid one million on Makybe Diva and wound up winning another three million as Diva became the first horse in Aussie history to win three Melbourne Cups in a row.

So that brings me into November. Slowly, but surely. One bit at a time. Hey I'm only three weeks behind ;)

Coming up shortly: our week in Margaret River.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Australia III

Friday. October 14th 2005 Week 30

Woody picked me up and we drove south from Perth. After checking a few spots we wound up surfing Margarets Main break. The locals were calling it four foot. We would measure it up as a solid 8 foot. There were about 15 guys out so it wasn’t really crowded. This first
paddle out at this spot spun me out a bit. All the locals were riding 7-8ft., 3 inch thick boards and half of them were wearing helmets! Here I am paddling out for the first time on a 6’0” and of course, no cranium protection. Anyway, I survived my first experience with the infamous break unscathed, but wished I had a good 6’6” to ride.

Afterwards we checked in again at the hostel and after getting a late start moseyed over to The Wine Bar. We savored a nice Margaret Merlot when a hot blonde pretended to be interested in the painting behind my shoulder. So we chatted up the Queensland
export and eventually her South African/Aussie friend Mel joined her. It turned out that Woody and Mel had met previously. Eventually as they chased us out of the Wine Bar we decided to check out The Three Bears, but Deb wasn't in the mood. I tried to get her to go, but no go. Then I tried to get her to take me home, but she wasn't going for that either. So we headed over with Mel to suck down more beer and some Tequilla shots. There was a DJ spinning and one seriously out of his head guy who freaked me out a bit. Closed down that place too.

Grabbed some coffee in the morning and headed to Margaret's Southside to surf with about 12 other guys on some just slightly smaller surf. With yesterday behind me I was feeling pretty stoked to get out there until I began the long paddle out. A guy was just paddling ashore and his head was split open with blood pouring from the wound. He actually asked me "how ya going?" "Yeah Good, Are you alright!?" "Yeah, no worries!" Gets ya thinking about the helmet thing.

Anyway, I got my fair share without eating the reef and after getting a few pics from the
overlooking parking lot we went to The Bootleg for lunch. Enjoyed some food and microbrewed beer in the nice sunny Margaret River countryside. Woody is heading back up to Perth so I hitch a ride up to Gup's house in Bunbury.

We head straight to The Parade's beer garden on the river to drink jugs of Carlton with Penny and family. Then we went over to Penny's with a carton and needless to say we played ping pong and drank them all. Birch and his soon to be wife came by and when I
began speaking to her she asked me why I was speaking with an American accent. Well, she is blonde.
Slept in, chilled out, watched a disturbing movie suggested by Gup called "Saw", had another yummy meal prepared by Mrs. Guppy, watched a guy win a million bucks on "Who Wants to be a millionaire", and went to bed having for the first time in the trip the unpleasant
realization that in the morning I will have to wake up to go to work ;(

Gup's brother Clinton picked me up in the morning and the grind began. They nearly broke me the first day ;) It's been a real long time since I worked and a real, real long time since I worked this hard. All I'm gonna say is that concrete is nice only when it's beneath your feet!! Tuesday was better when I got to help frame up, Gyp rock, flush and sand a room. Later in the week we put in a drop ceiling.

Gup got tickets for the International Rules Footy game so we headed up to Perth after lunch for the Ireland vs. Australia football match. Tailgated at Dan and Mez's place and walked over to Subiaco Stadium. Watched with Gups' parents as Australia trounced on Ireland.
As a side note: apparently I was able to locate the most popular mens room in the stadium because in the time it took I could have walked 2km to my car, gone in a empty bottle, stopped on the way back for a tofu dog and leisurely walked back to my seat!!!

Got another surf in on Sunday. Penny along with his mate Stewart picked me up at 6am for the 250km drive down to Hamelin Bay. Boranup that day wasn't really anything to write home about: a shifty chest high beach break. Got some lunch in smalltown Margaret River. Dripped beet juice on my new white t-shirt. That evening we went to The Prince and had some drinks with Birch, Joe and her mate Amy. Listened to a couple of live bands and capped off the evening with a jaunt for kebabs. Always kebabs! Ya know, late night pizza by the slice would kill here! The market is wide open. Hell, I alone could probably sustain it.

Just a short blog this time. Sorry. I know I'm behind, but it's all down in the journal , so I'll post more soon. Wishing everyone an early "Happy Thanksgiving!!" And remember, really we are all turkeys. :)

Monday, October 24, 2005

Australia II

Wed. 9/28/05 Day 200

Another windy day so I chilled at home during the day and was going to check out James’ first gig with his band, The Hole Beneath, but in the end he suggested that Paul and I go to Clancy’s in Subiaco. So we did. A nice restaurant/bar with lots of students, good beer and good music supplied by the The Raggabeats (Reggae).

Another windy day. Gotta really think about taking up Kite Surfing which is very popular here. I took a long bike ride down to the Swan River and Nedlands Yacht club. Thought I might be able to locate the hubcap which I knocked off of James’ car when I took it to get some lunch. I’m not used to the curbs jumping out at ya from the left side of the road:)
Got home and we headed back to The Deen for my second Salsa class where we get to dance with partners. Passed the class but the bike ride early in the day had me stuffed so I didn’t really do any more dancing that night. Afterwards we went for kebabs again since the Chinese Noodle place was closing. In general everything in W.A. closes really early, with the exception on Thursday which is late night retail day when most stores are open until 9pm.

Windy Again! Went out to The Funk Club which was having a benefit night for the New Orleans relief. It started with the houseband who were ok, but they had a female drummer who just wasn’t cutting it. Next up was a traditional N.O. Brass Band who were really fun. One more funk band after that, but again the drummer was not up to par. Just too timid. Looked like he was afraid of hurting the drums!? A DJ spun tunes which we danced to with Thaedra, Fiona and Jucinta. Things closed down at the Funk Club around 1am so we took Jucinta to another place which was spinning HipHop. The dance floor had only two ladies on it, but we got out there anyway and got things going for awhile. On the way out James chatted up a couple of ladies so we dropped off Jucinta and then headed back for some fishing. But by the time we got back the ladies had gone so we actually went back to pick up Jucinta and took her home for a spa. At least we’d get a massage.

Windy Again!! Will it ever let up? Walked down to the beach with Paul. He wound up buying a 2mm Farmer John wetsuit to go along with all the sailing equipment he bought earlier in the day. I called up Gup and he said he’d be coming up Wednesday to buy his new truck so it looked like I would be heading back down with him. I was gonna head down to the Stamford, but Paul and Toni came home and we had a spa. Not much later James came home and forced round 2 in the spa when he brought home 2 cuties. I just wonder if their mothers knew their cradles had been robbed!! Bad James, Bad. Sent them on their way and got into bed ~5am.

Woke up and had a big breakfast with Paul, Toni and James. Then Paul and Toni took me for a ride into Freemantle which is south Perth. We checked out the weekend market and Perth’s oldest buildings, a mere 100 years, maybe. Had some coffee in a sidewalk café and then drove to Kings Park. A popular place with gardens and great views of the city. Paul’s mom came over to spend the night outside the yoga ashram and to straighten up the bachelor pad. Capped off the evening the friends coming over for a nice barbecue. I couldn’t resist and had to buy some prawns for the cliché, “shrimps on the barbi”.

The rest of the week was pretty quiet. On Tuesday we went to a different club for Salsa lessons, but we arrived late so instead of taking the class I just watched. Thursday there was a bit of sunshine so I rode down to the beach and hung out for a while. Apparently the kids are off from school because there are way too many of them to all be playing hookie. Went to The Stamford later that night with Paul. Got to talking with a young lady, but it wasn’t long before the boyfriend made his presence known ;(

Paul introduced me to a friend of his. “Woody” is an IT guy working for BHP mines who seems to have a pretty cush job. He makes good coin and has a 8 day on/ 6 day off schedule. He’s a pretty hardcore surfer, literally driving 1000’s of Kilometers every month, mostly by himself, searching out waves. Mostly he surfs a little up north at Lancelin which he talks up big time. The offroad trek keeps the crowds down and he says he often gets epic surf pretty much to himself. He also speaks very highly of the surf on Rotto island (~1hr ferry from Perth). He reckons its better than Bali!! As there is excellent diving there also. I’m definitely putting it on my to do list.

Anyway, he’s just bought a house in Dunsborough which is between Bunbury and Margaret River. He’s going down to Bunbury the following day to sign some papers and then go for a surf. He extended an invite to me which I eagerly accepted being stoked to have someone with good local wave knowledge show me the breaks down south.

Woke up, packed up my gear and had a little breakfast. We hit the road ~10am. Stopped for lunch in Mandurah which is a relatively small town by U.S. standards, but it was completely packed. Road traffic and shopping congestion. With all the hustle and bustle it seemed like a holiday even though it was midday on Friday.

We continued on down the road with Woody spurting off names of the local trees and wildlife. I got to see my first Kangaroo. Actually it turned out to be a Wallabee, slightly smaller and dark in color. We arrived in Bunbury and he signed his papers. I obviously hadn’t gotten a ride down with Gup and had been playing phone tag with him so I asked Woody to drive down to his work site and located him. I found out that I hadn’t missed him up in Perth, he never came up. He found a truck down in Bunbury and should be getting it in a day or two. Our business being taken care of, it was now time to find some surf. We drove south and checked a bunch of spots; North Point (right), South Point (left), Gullitines, Huzza’s (“A” frame beach break) and finally surfed Gallows. Onshore, 3-4 lefts over reef, shifty and not all that good. But we got wet and caught a few. When he took his board out from his board bag I found out why they call him “Woody”. He builds his own Balsa wood boards. Pretty nice looking thing and light. But he said it took him 50 boards to get it right!

Afterwards we drove back to Dunsborough to get some accomadations for the night and checked into the Best Western Hotel/hostel. Dunsborough is a small town. Center city is one block in each direction. We got some fish n’ chips for dinner and then went to the bottle shop and bought 2 bottles of cheap Margaret River Merlot which was a mistake. Bottom of the barrel, pure crap! But of course we managed to get some down before heading to the Wine Bar. We cleansed the swill from our palates with a couple of drinks and then bought a proper bottle of Margaret Merlot which was as good as the first bottle was bad. Chatted up a trio of ladies, but they were about as interesting as drying paint. So we went to The Three Bears to check out the live music. I’m still not sure whether they were a cover band or not? The first song we heard was Radiohead, but everything after that was unrecognizable! Pretty bad.

Woke up and felt like dog doodoo. Made some coffee and Woody offered me a “Wheatix” which I promptly chomped on thinking it was a granola bar. It was in fact not a granola bar but an over sized, dry (bone dry) “Wheatie”. After having a good laugh at me I received some milk to wash down the wheat dust in my mouth. Went off and checked another bunch of spots. We surfed “Smiths Beach” just north of “Supertubes” cause there weren’t any super tubes. Got to surf some fun chest to head, rights and lefts, on a nice sunny day. Then we had to cut the session and head back to Perth because Woody had a wedding to go to at 4pm. He dropped me off at 3:45pm. Oh well, I guess he can be on time to his friends next wedding ;)

I then met Matt who was moving back into Paul’s place. He had lived there before, went to America and England for a year and a half and now he’s back and taking over my room. I cooked up some dinner, hopped into the shower and was just drying off when the taxi arrived to take us to the Paddington Pub. We arrived to a long line out the door. Entered after ~15 minutes and bought a jug of Carlton. Went in further to check out a cover band which was decent. Danced a bit, but was just generally tired out from the earlier surf. Later we figured we would have a better chance of hailing a cab if we walked away from the pub so we walked towards home with Paul hobbling on leg he injured while playing hockey. Of course it started raining. Just as I thought we were in for a very wet evening we miraculously hailed a cab and got home.

The next morning I took a bike ride to Hilary’s inlet and checked out an overpriced dive shop. Followed that with a drive down to the beach for lunch where Paul got roped into a sobriety check point where the fuzz was forcing everyone to take the blow test, in the middle of the day!!

On Wednesday we went to The Bog in Northbridge to check out James’ band, The Hole Beneath. For visuals the club played ZZ Top videos behind the stage?! After the gig we went back to Clancy’s to jam out to the reggae of the RaggaBeats. Tailed some girls back to their place for a nightcap and stopped on the way home for munchies and a perhaps the best hot chocolate ever.

The next night Woody showed up and we put him to work eradicating a computer virus and cleaning up the registry. He’s heading back down south in the morning so we’re going for another surf. He said he would pick me up a 6am, so I really should have gone to bed earlier than 2:30am. But I guess I can sleep when I’m dead……….

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


So Shannon (Gup) and I drive to the local golf course where is old man is playing a round and exchange his car for his dad's truck and cruise on up to Perth. We arrive at his mate's house and I'm introduced to Danny and his girl Mez. We crack open some beers while Gup and Dan exchange gifts. Gup gives Dan a footy beer cozy and in return gets a fullsize footy which Dan received with the beer purchase. Everyone is pumped for the game tomorrow. Some more of their friends show up and it becomes a party. Knowing the next day is going to be an extension of tonight I turn in shortly after the guests have left while I'm pretty sure Dan and Gup stayed up most of the night.

The next morning I wait until 11am before starting to drink. No, I haven't become an alcoholic it's just that the game starts at 12:30 so ya gotta start early. We wait for Dan's sis and her boyfriend to arrive with the tickets. Gup refuses to let me pay for mine. Cheers mate! They arrived with another couple and we walk some blocks down to Subiaco Stadium to mix it up with 43,000 other crazed Footy fans.

Decked out in a borrowed West Australia Eagles hat and scarf I look the part. Bought four beers for Gup and I and we all took our seats directly behind one of the goals. I really lucked out to be introduced to the game at such a special time for the local team. A great experience enhanced by the fact that they won the game. Much to the dismay of a few Adelaide fans who were sitting behind us taking and giving loads of shit as the game ebbed and flowed, all in good fun. Dan was constantly chastising Gup for using foul language, but he also couldn't help letting a few slip. The guys were all pretty well pissed and a one point a couple of old ladies in the row in front of us payed the price when Gup lost control of a beer and showered them with it. The rest of the afternoon, in his glee, Gup's utterances were pretty much limited to "We're in the Grand Final Mutha F*ckers!!!!" which he proclaimed to everyone whether or not they cared. Obviously stoked we went back to Dan's to continue the festivities. Poor Mez overextended herself trying to keep up with the boys and wound up paying the price and having to retire early.

On Sunday we awoke and Dan cooked up a big breakfast feast including tons of meat and sausages. Their eyes were bigger than their stomachs though and I confirmed that Gup really doesn't eat enough to keep a bird alive. Later they shuttled me about 15 minutes west down to Paul May's house in Scarborough. I had met Paul in Nice, France and kept in touch. Turns out he had a room to rent out so my timing was perfect and he agreed to let me the room for as long or short as I liked.

He showed me the room and gave me the tour of his comfy house with a great patio in a tropical plant setting complete with a hot tub. We took a 15 minute walk due west to the beach and had kebabs for lunch overlooking the Indian Ocean. There was a windblown but sizeable swell pumping thru so we sat on the beach for awhile and watched a surf contest. Later at the house I met Paul's girl Toni when she brought over some take out Thai food for us to chow down. Late that night I got to meet our other flatmate James just before turning in for the evening.

Woke up on Monday and the plan for the day was to locate a good used board and wetsuit. Went around to the four area shops which didn't have the greatest selection of boards, but I managed to find a 6'0" Channel Island in really good shape. After trying on the gambit of wetsuits I finally settled on a West 3/2mm Fullsuit. It was the only one of the lot which fit me perfectly and believe it or not it's a small! It also had the added benefit of being a local WA Oz suit. After all I can get a Rip Curl or Billabong anywhere.

I rode Paul's bike home with my new equipment, suited up and walked back down to the beach. It was a little smaller than yesterday, but still heavy, windblown, shifty and just a generally hard beach break to get a fix on. I kooked out pretty hard, but hey, at least I'm back in the water after a 7 month hiatus. That night we walked a few blocks down the neighborhood and Paul introduced me to Tanya and Hardo, his good mate from school. Hardo was pleased to show off his new Honda 1000cc twin rocket with the newly installed computer chip and aftermarket pipes which had just registered 125Hp on a dynometer. I later learned that it's a long drawn out process here to get a cycle license and in fact at the moment he is restricted to only 250cc. Hopefully he'll live to get his proper license.

In the morning I rode down to the beach to check the surf, but it didn't look worth the paddle so I took a ride a few miles north along the coast to the marina there and back. When Paul got home he invited me down to the Stamford Inn to join a co-worker for a couple of brews. So we had a few quiet rounds of Toohey's at the beach front Irish bar, but I'm told it's a really happening place Thursday thru Saturday.

The next morning the surf looked better so I paddled out. Still a bit windblown though and deceptively big. I was still kooking out but not as hard and managed to get some turns in on mostly close outs. The board seems to be working though, I just have to dial it in and knock off some more rust from being out of the water so long. That night James, a real Casanova, introduced me to one of his many girls. I'm thinking it will be good to hang with him so I'm happy to accept his invitation to go with him to a Salsa Club the following night where he has been taking lessons.

The morning next the surf was a little smaller, but finally glassy! The only problem was that I told Paul I'd stick around the house and wait for his new mattress to be delivered. So right after I took delivery I headed down again to the beach. Made all my waves, linked a few turns together, the board felt good and my paddling strength is noticeably improved also! Finally felt like I could actually surf again. I got home with just enough time to eat and shower before taking off to the Salsa Club/Studio with James.

I enrolled in the beginner class along with 6 ladies and 2 guys. We learned about the rhythm and timing along with 5 steps: Basic, Cucaracha, Exhibe, Atras and Enchufla. Gotta learn more though so I can partner up. Looks likes loads of fun and a great way to meet woman. It's kind of like speed dating since in the classes you are constantly rotating partners. Afterwards I wandered around the club which has a pool room, 6 different dancing rooms with various levels and kinds of Latin dancing going on and even an outdoor area with a live Samba band.

At the bar I decided to use my American accent advantage and chatted up a beautiful brunette who turned out to be from Switzerland and studying English here. But her and her two friends all spoke English very well so we had no problem communicating that we should head to the dance floor and check out the band. There James introduced me to more of his girl friends and we all got a good shaking going on. At one point the band all grabbed various drums and came down off stage to form a rocking samba drum circle which seemed like it would go forever, that is until the corps leader broke thru a drum head! Somehow we let the swiss get away, but there was no shortage of willing partners. Afterwards we went for Kebabs and Justinda was kind enough to give us massages which does wonders for ones digestion:)

The next day after riding to the beach I spent it mostly reading from Paul's library. Excerpts from Ghandi, Yoga thoughts by Swami Venkatesandanda and The Prophet by Kahil Gibran which is excellent. Later that night I walked down to check out weekend scene at the Stamford Inn and found a fairly packed house with a live cover band playing. The second song I heard was the Hoodoo Gurus bringing me right back to high school. Only in Oz. Shortly a woman named Jaqueline came up to me and asked "Are you wearing braces?" to which I replied "No, why?". "Well smile then. You have a beautiful smile". I never tried that one before! She introduced me to David, recently divorced and looking to get back in the game, as well as his sister. While dancing Jaqueline threw me once more asking " Are you gay?". "No, why do you ask?" " Cause the guy next to you is trying to pick you up!". Happily I was completely oblivious, but did mosie closer to her.

Saturday 24/9/05 Game Day!!
Super Bowl Saturday
for the AFL. Everyone is amped with high hopes for their team. Paul, Toni and I pick up some drinks and food for the barbi and drive inland past the city to the hills of Perth. We are the first to arrive and I meet Ghraham, his wife and their new baby boy. Then Tina's parents, as well as Vanessa and Justin (Tina's Bro), two other couples and Tanya with Hardo coming later from work. Before the game we each put in $2 and pick an Eagles player's name out of a hat. Whoever holds the name of the player who kicks the first goal for the Eagles wins the pot. Ghraham won. Rigged?!? :)

We are also supposed to drink everytime our player receives the ball and when they bounce it, but that really fell by the wayside as everyone was just super intent on watching the game. They cranked up the barbi at halftime and it was quickly covered with about 30lbs of steaks and sausages leaving little room for my veggie snitzels. So we chowed down hoping the Eagles could mount a comeback from the 39-19 deficit. They had a great third quarter and did make a comeback. The fourth quarter was close and it looked like they had them, but in the end after a tense quarter, even for me, they lost the game 58-54. Then came the mourning with Ghraham and Justin taking the hardest. Hardo took it very well considering he just lost $2000!! Afterwards we invited everyone back to our place to soak their sorrows away.

Sunday- Race Day!
James is sailing in the season opener "Cat Classice Regatta", but can't stick around for the afternoon race so he asked if I'd like to fill in for him. I told him I have almost no sailing experience, but he said it didn't matter. The skipper (another Paul) can't sail the boat alone so he will be stoked to have me aboard. The boat we're racing is a Tornado Catamaran which is the same boat they race in the Olympics and is often clocked at over 30knots usually while half out of the water at 45 degrees. So we all head to Swan River (Paul is also filling in as a crewmate) and arrive at Nedlands Yacht Club where the Tornado and Hobie Cat crews are rigging their boats up for a day of racing. It's a beautiful day, but little wind in the morning forces the early race to be scrubbed. However, in the afternoon the wind came up so Paul and James went out while I took James' car out to get some lunch. Your first drive on the left side of the road takes a bit of getting used to particularly when you have to shift the manual with your left hand.

Anyway, they wound up taking 2nd place in the race and then came back to the beach to switch James for me. I geared up and Paul gave me a crash (hopefully not an ominous term) course on sailing a Tornado. His domain are the rudders and the main sail. I'm in charge of making occasional adjustments to the jib as well as hoisting, lowering and keeping the spinaker (also known as the Kite) at optimum taughtness while heading downwind. Of course the boat is fastest when you get it out of the water on it's side so my other main role was to be the ballast by hooking in and trapeizing over the side. You just have to make doubly sure that you are indeed clipped in. I nearly made that mistake once as I became unclipped while going over the side!!

It's really quite a good overall workout, especially tough on the hands as you constantly are tugging on the control lines. We were in second place and had a great lead ahead of third until a motor boat towing two other boats (illegal) refused to yield (again illegal, where are the cops when you need one?!) and forced us off course. And then once while taking down the kite I got it caught under the boat which cost a lot of time. Paul took it all in stride though and we wound up taking 2nd place just by a nose. Good Fun!

Back on land we shared some beers and laughs and headed back home for a long spa and philosophising on life. We thought about going out since it was a public holiday the next day and people would have been out, but the in the end the futons just wouldn't ease their grip on us. I was just heading to bed when James arrived home after his concert with a party in tow. More beer, more hot tubbing....

And so it goes. Sorry I don't have more good pics. Particluarly the surf pics. With the digi camera's shutter lag it's difficult to get a good shot and the pics don't really do justice. There were some bombs coming through and a couple of guys ripping!

And finally I'd like to share a reading with all those suffering from the cycle of life/death and Mother nature's wrath of late.

An excerpt from Kahil Gibran:

I saw Man, throughout history, erecting towers, palaces, cities, temples on the face of the earth; and I saw the earth turn in her fury upon them and snatch them back into her bosom.
I saw strong men building impregnable castles and I observed artists embellishing their walls with paintings; then I saw the earth gape, open her mouth and swallow all that the skillful hand and the luminous mind of genius had shaped.
And I knew that the earth is like a beautiful bride who needs no man-made jewels to heighten her lovelieness but is content with the green verdure of her fields, and the golden sands of her seashores, and the precious stones on her mountains.
But man in his Divinity I saw standing like a giant in the midst of (Death)
, Wrath and Destruction, mocking the anger of the earth and the raging of the elements.
Like a pillar of light Man stood amidst the ruins of Babylon, Nineveh, Palmyra and Pompeii (Phuket, New Orleans and departed souls), and as he stood he sang the song of
Let the Earth take
That which is hers,
For I, Man, have no ending.

( ) are my additions

Wishing you all well (with a special shout out to Ma!)


Friday, September 16, 2005

Bangkok to Perth

I arrived back in Bangkok ~4am and checked back into the Sitdhi Guesthouse just off of Khao San Rd. Grabbed my journal and went to use the internet at the Israeli house. There was no one manning the desk so I wound up there for about two hours.

Went back to my room and got two hours sleep and then I was up for breakfast and to go shopping for my airline ticket to OZ. Value Air, pronounced "Waloo Air" by the Thai's, is the best deal. However, I can't use them because they are apparently suffering a slow death , don't have a schedule past October and may not even be around by the time I'm ready to return. So I pay a few bucks more for Royal Brunei which in the end was well worth it.

I then went out to replace my stolen flip flops. Also bought some rubbing alcohol to dry out my ear which is still clogged with water and really starting to annoy me.

Later I found Alan my dive buddy from Koh Tao and had a Singha and a springroll while taking in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory". The original is much better or maybe I'm just an old nostalgic fart?! Spent this night just like we would the next two, cruising Khao San road , the clubs and people watching. We even got gutsy the last night and ate some street vendor's octapus on a stick. Not bad actually. We passed on the cockroaches, grubs, grasshoppers and scorpions though. Interestingly these delicacies only become available late at night (When everyone is pissed!) I Spent the next two days mainly shopping for shirts and shorts for OZ and splurged on a dive watch which I honed my haggling skills on.

My last night I spent my last $4 on a t-shirt, said goodbye to Alan, retrieved my bags and headed to the bus stop for the 1am airport bus. I made sure to get there early and that's always a good idea in Thailand. They tend to make up their schedules according to god knows what, often leaving earlier than forecasted. I got there at 12:30 and confirmed it was the 1am bus and then confirmed I had enough time to take five minutes to get some Pad Thai from the corner. "Oh yes, 10-15 minutes at least before the bus leaves". Well 4 minutes later I returned and they hurriedly ushered me onto the bus which promptly left for the airport at about 12:36!!

My flight wasn't till 7:50am so at the airport I alternated between trying to sleep and watching CNN. I got no sleep and recieved little information. Around 6am I checked in, paid the 500 Baht departure tax and went thru passport control. At this point I thought it best not to fall asleep so I perused the Duty Free Shops and waited to board, hardly able to keep my eyes open.

Nearly on time we boarded the Royal Brunei jet which is very nice. Everyone gets their own video screen complete with movie choices and video games. The seats are comfy and the food was very good also. They even had a vegetarian meal for me even though I didn't pre-order it.
We were to have a stop over in Brunei which is a country I was not at all familar with. It is apparently a very weathly country mainly from Oil. It is also a dry Muslim country, the kind that gives out the death penalty for drug possesion. Both the flights to Brunei and then on to Perth began with a prayer to Allah. I guess that us infidels are also covered since we are all together in the cabin?! Altogether they were nice flights, but between the meals, the video games and a screaming toddler I didn't get any sleep.
So I arrived in Perth tired and in a fog. It was quite cool, spring just having started, and a nice change from the heat I've experienced of late. Auzzie customs, the toughest in the world, wanted to confiscate my Indian hand drum. In the end they compromised and only cut off the skins allowing me to at least keep the shell. Oh well, I'll reskin later.

My Auzzie mate, Shannon wasn't around yet, but showed up shortly as I was talking to a Perth local. So we hopped into his old man's pickup truck and began the journey to Bunbury. I had no idea it was 2.5 hours away!! Geez, if I had known that I would have never let Shannon pick me up. After taking a wrong turn in the "big city" we eventually made it to Bunbury where I met Gup's mom. She made me feel at home and the combination of being in an acutal home and taking my first truly hot shower in 6 months was fantastic. I slept like a baby in thru the chilly Bunbury night.

Spent a couple of days chillin and walking around. Tonight we head up to Perth for the weekend. It turns out that the Western Australia Eagles are playing in the AFL semifinals this week and Gup got us tickets. So my first Aussie Footy game should be a great experience.Now all I have to do is try to understand the game and keep up with Gup and his buddies!!!!

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Thailand's Islands

So I hop on the bus and was just falling asleep when they turned on the movie. And for some reason it's in French?! Around 5am we arrive at the end of the line for this bus and are forced to wait at a restaurant till our ferry leaves @ 7:30am. So in the meantime I finish reading "The Alchemist" which everybody raves about. It has a nice message, but I found it kind of remedial and not that special.

So on the ferry I got a little nap and some sun on deck and we arrived at Koh Samui ~ 11:30am. An hour later we pulled into Koh Pangnan and two German girls and I accepted a ride to check out "Dreamhill Bungalows" in the northwest part of the island. We all decided to stay there, at least for one night. We thru our bags in our rooms and headed straight for the beach. The water was so warm, almost too warm. Also very shallow with a coral reef about 30 meters out. After my swim I noticed the Germans as well as most of the girls here are topless. This will do :) Too bad it seems like a couples place :( That is unless it's during the Full Moon Party (which it wasn't). Then it is debatibly the world's wildest party island with 20-30,000 people showing up to party their faces off.

I went for a jog and already the fresh salt air is making me feel better. After dinner I feel asleep and awoke around midnight. I figured I should walk along the beach and check out the bars just to make sure I wasn't missing anything. It turns out I wasn't as it was pretty quiet. So I walked a little, meditated and then went back to sleep.

In the morning I awoke to see that the German girls were packed and ready to search for other accomadations. So I let them stow their gear in my room so they could chill on the beach. I followed shortly and then shared a taxi with them into town. They wanted to stay on the east side of the island and I was thinking along the same lines. But in any case I wanted to rent a scooter. Which is what I did.

I headed southeast along the coast towards Had Rin where the Full Moon Party is held and saw a few places to stay, but nothing that jumped out at me. So I made my way back to Dreamhill, swam, relaxed on the beach, read a cheap novel I found, and had a nice Thai dinner on the beach listening to the Doors and watching a lovely sunset.

The next morning I awoke and had breakfast on the tranquil beach and then rode the Honda into town to get prices for diving in Koh Tao. Armed with that information I took some time to explore the island. I followed some signs to a state park with some waterfalls but there wasn't much water flowing. Carried on to the lookout view with a nice panoramic view of vividly green palm tree tops all over the island. I hopped back on the Honda for more cruising and somehow missed a turn. No problem though, it's a small island. I just enjoyed the longer route and followed the sun back to the bungalow.

I duplicated last night with the exception that I got invited to a party. So when I heard the music kick in I went to check it out. However, I didn't stay long due to the fact that I wasn't really in a party mood and the rather bad guitar playing and singing did nothing to entice me to stay.

In the morning I had to yell for a bit until someone woke up so I could pay my bill. I hopped on the Honda and hoped I had enough gas to make it back. Traded the scooter for my passport and booked my dive class. It's a very hot day so I'm sweating buckets until I could board the boat and go down below for some air conditioning. Disembarked and was escorted to the Ban's pickup truck where I met a couple of Canadian girls who are also heading to Perth shortly.

We arrived at a rather nicely set up dive resort and I secured my room. The scuba orientation is at 4pm so I stroll around for a while and check out the food and movie menus. The movies are all bootlegged and you are lucky if large chunks of the movie aren't missing.

At 4pm we met our Dive Instructor, Steef from Denmark. He came here 7 years ago and never left. Now he's married to a Thai lady and has a beautiful little girl. The other students include Shirley & Joe (Ireland), Alan (Scotland), James (CA), Nathan & Kathy (OZ) and John (England) who has never dived before yet has signed up for the "zero to hero course" to become an instructor. We start off slow, Steef talks to us for a while and then we watch the PADI video for a while.

Afterwards I took a dip in the pool and then went for some burritos. Did some homework, played my drum and got eaten alive by mosquitos. They say malaria isn't a problem here, I hope they're right!?!

In the morning we started our confined water instruction where we meet Johan (Denmark) who is our assistant instructor. The sea is flat so I'm hoping to do the instruction there, but Steef says there isn't enough water so off to the pool we go and start off with a 200m swim test. Then we set up our equipment and got into the pool for some skills: clearing water from your mask, taking on/off your mask/weights/BCD, swim w/o a mask, buoyancy control, losing and finding your regulator and sharing your octapus (back up air supply).

The next morning we started our open water dives. Up at 7am and we all meet for breakfast. Then went to the beach, hopped on a speed boat which took us to the big dive boat which then took us to our first dive site: Twin Peaks. Very nice conditions: 20-25 Meter Visibility and 86 degree water. After our dive briefing we got into the water. A shallow dive of only 12m for 40 minutes. A nice dive, felt pretty good. Really nice coral and lots of fish. After the dive we debriefed , snacked on the complimentary cookies and coffee and sailed to our second dive site, White Rock.

After planning the dive we entered the water this time using the "Dead Mexican" entry. A Fall backwards into the water like you've been shot in one of those old Mexican cowboy movies. Practiced a few more skills and then swam around checking out the fish and coral formations. Another good dive, more relaxed. Back on land we had some classroom time and all decided to get the final exam out of the way early. I got a perfect score.

That evening I had a tofu cheeseburger for dinner and caught up with Alan for a beer. We went to Ban's Bar and met up with Joe and Shirley for some more beers and watched some football. Played some pool and had some more beers. Too many actually. On the way out I realized that someone had stolen my flip flops :(

Our 11:30 meeting came way too early as Alan and I were quite hung over. I didn't realize those Chang's are 6.4%! Today we will be completing our Open Water course with two more dives. First back to Twin Peaks, but we went to 18m this time. Also along with us is a film crew so for the camera we all show off with a "James Bond" somersault entry. Practiced a few more skills under water and took off our masks, put on some sunglasses and waved to the camera while sitting on the bottom of the ocean. Then a swim thru an arch formation and we were off to explore. Saw some Trigger fish which on Koh Tao can be aggressive and start biting your fins, but they weren't biting today. No Fun!!

Anyway, later we had a graduation dinner together and then watched the film of our day. It was nicely produced and fun to watch. It would be nice though if they didn't charge $50 for a copy.

The next day I opted to continue my dive education and take the Advanced Open Water course and met my new dive buddy, Neil from England. This day we were kept busy with three seperate dives. First we head to Chumpon Pinacle which is Steef's favorite site. He told us there was a good possibility of seeing some Leopard Sharks and maybe even the elusive and huge but harmless Whale Shark. Again the visibility was excellent and we got to go down to 30 meters. A great dive, but everyone else seems to suck more air than me which shortens my dive time. Gotta be a team player though. On our second dive we saw a giant jellyfish which had loads of tiny silver fish inside its bell. Apparently they were snacking on the Jelly which didn't have much longer to live.

Just before sunset we set off for our Night Dive, were briefed and in the darkness dove into the water torches ablazing. A nice experience, but other than some sleeping Triggers and a large hermit crab we didn't get to see any of the really cool nocturnal things like octapusses or feeding Baracudas. After a seriously long day of diving we still had 3 chapters of homework to do so we all decided to do it together piecemeal over dinner. Afterwards we all went to bed and I'm sure slept very soundly.

The next day would finish up the Advanced course with our final two dives. First we went to Southwest Pinnacle for our Fish I.D. dive. The objective was simple: spot and I.D. as many fish as possible. And we saw many. Then on board the boat we consulted our fish slates and Johan's infamous fish book which he is never without.

Next we cruised to Ao Leuk Point for our Navigation Dive. The main exercise here was to navigate a big square with the aid of a compass. We had one big problem though. Neil was wearing the compass and his mask was fogged up. We were flying blind so it's no wonder we got lost! Luckily I spotted a couple of other diving buddies and suggested we follow them. Fortunately they weren't lost like us and we made it back to square one. Then we were set loose on our own for the first time which was great. It was really nice not to have to follow a guide around and we got to see a ton of fish including a nice Mooray Eel. Except for having to surface for a minute to defog Neil's mask it was a great dive. The best one yet. Neil even did much better on air consumption so we were able to max out our dive time at 45 minutes and we were the last ones back on the boat.

Back on land we grabbed a taxi into town to check out some dive equipment and had some more excellent Thai food. Walked back and drank a few beers at Ban's bar. We were just about to head to "Choppers Bar" when the skys opened up so we ordered another round. The rain cleared and Johan showed up so we finished our beers and began walking to Choppers. Johan had his scooter so he shuttled us one by one to the bar where a live band was playing to a packed house. The band wasn't technically that good, but they were fun and everyone really got into it. After closing we stopped for some banana/chocolate pancakes and said our goodbyes to Joe & Shirley who were leaving the next morning.

No diving the next day so I went into town and bought a mask and snorkel and then tested them out. There was some pretty cool stuff not even 50 meters offshore. I followed a small school of feeding fish for a while and saw an impressive array of fish for being so close to shore.
The next morning when I went to pay my bill they tried to charge me for someone elses food, but quickly rectified it. While waiting for the taxi to the pier I ran into Team Denmark from my class. The previous day they got to see some sharks and that morning they got attacked by a giant trigger fish. Some people have all the fun.

So now I prepare to sail back to Bangkok and make arrangements to visit the wonderful wizard of OZ!!!! :)

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Welcome to Bangkok

I didn't have any plan what so ever for arrival in Bangkok, so it was nice of Zach to let me borrow his Thailand travel book during the flight. Located some cheap places to stay and decided to head to the "Banglamphu" area. I hopped on the airport bus and got dropped off at Khoa San Rd, "Backpacker Central".

Total culture shock after being in India which in my opinion stands for:
I 'll
N ever
D o
I t
A gain !!!

Burger King, McD's, 7-11's and vendors everywhere selling knock offs. It was late at night, but I had no problem finding a room for about $4. After a stroll around the area I crashed on a pillow thick and hard enough to send King Kong to the chiropractor.

In the morning I replaced my Bolle's which got crushed on the plane with a pair of "authentic" Oakley's for $4!! Then I had to put on my thinking cap. Now that I'm half way thru the trip I need to come up with a plan for the second half. So many options, so much to consider, no idea what I really want to do. So I spent most of the day going from one travel agent to the other (of which there is no shortage of) gathering information with which to sort out some kind of plan. Spent the evening people watching with the hope that something would click inside my brain.
Around 5:30 am there is a knock on my door. Time to go to work! You won't believe this but I got drafted into the Navy as a pilot!! Well actually, I got accepted as an extra to play a Navy pilot for a movie called "Rescue Dawn". It's starring Christian Bale (the latest Batman, American Psycho) and directed by Werven Herzog who is apparently one of Germany's top directors. Both by the way are super nice guys. In fact, Herzog took the time before and after the shoot to shake everyone of the 400 extras' hands and wish us "Good Luck"!! Definately not from Hollywood!

The movie is about a German born US Navy pilot who was shot down over Laos just prior to our "official" involvement in Vietnam. So most people never even knew about the event. "Deter" is the only pilot ever to escape and make it back to our lines by himself. Look for me in the very last scene where the carrier crew is welcoming him back. It should be out next summer. I doubt it will be a blockbuster though :(

So on the bus down to Pattaya I meet Josh (Germany) and Donald (Canada) and we take in the nice Thailand scenery which otherwise I probably wouldn't have gotten to see.

So all in all I wind up spending a whole week in Bangkok. Much too long, but I need to clear the remnants of India out of my lungs and airways before I can go scuba diving. So along with Josh, Jonas and the Englih crew: Neil, Morgan, Rory and Fran I spend the week partying and picking up cheap clothing.

I should mention that Bangkok is Sleazy with a capital "S". I'm not Mr. Innocent, but I have to admit that I'm pretty disgusted with this place. Finding a nice Thai girl is next to impossible here between the prostitutes, thieves and "lady-boys". Every day I check the mirror to make sure someone hasn't tattoed "Horny" on my forehead. Thai's are constantly trying to drive you into a sex club or a Ping Pong Show. (An all female sport, use your imagination!)

On night we decided we wanted to go out and experience the night life where Thai's hang out as opposed to tourists. So a little gay Thai fashion designer who was staying at our guest house suggests an area of Bangkok to check out. I don't know if it was his idea of a joke, but we wound up in a place that was just like Khoa San Rd. but 10 times bigger! So we checked out the local tits and ass for a while and left. But of course the taxi drivers there and back could not refrain for more than five seconds from asking something akin to "You go to Ping Pong??" Over and Over and Over...

But it wasn't all debauchery. Even though I was surrounded by some truly professional drunks I managed to keep my liver intact and see some culture. One day I hired a Tut-tut to drive me around and check out the city and some of the Temples. No shortage of them. Some really impressive Buddhas and buildings, although I can't help but think Buddha is rolling in his grave.

Before leaving Bangkok I was able to hear some of Jonas' music and help him with a drum track he was having difficulty ironing out. Now it's time to get the hell out of Sodom and go down to the island beaches. Koh Phangnan here I come..... (pics coming shortly)

Friday, August 26, 2005

Last Days in Mcleod Ganj

Ofer has decided to take of for Rishakesh. I considered going there also, but really don't feel like taking the 16 hour bus ride out there. So we played our last games of Backgammon and he took a rickshaw down to Mcleod. I chose to run down. I beat him there.

After he bought a handmade drum it was time to say goodbye to my longest term comrade of this trip. Four new Israeli arrivals were at the guest house, two of them had colds. I seem to have caught it also. India has not been kind health wise. But that's to be expected in India. The next morning I met a nice Dutch couple who moved in.
Went and bought my own drum which helped kill time as I paused to play while the sky opened up on my trek back to the guest house. I was sorry to see Ofer take off, but happy to replace him with a couple of cute Israeli girls, Adi and Maya. Kudos to Adi for handing me my first chess defeat of the trip. Another rainy day.

Sat for a while and listened to the French National Geographic photograper play guitar and sing songs a little out of time. But some classics which brought back memories of Dad's playing when I was young: The Boxer, CCR, etc...

The next morning we were woken by a trumpet and a drum playing some traditional Hindu tune right outside my window. It's some sort of local Holiday and Shanti invites Enzo and I to have brunch. He goes off to work, but Vinod takes us to the "old house", an adobe structure which has been in the family 100 years. In the winter they move here for warmth. Ducking thru the low entrance we exchange greetings and the ladies serve us up delicious spiced potatoes with Chipoti (bread) and an interesting and tasty hot green and brown, semi crunchy dish made from a single leaf plant that grows locally. After that they dish us out a heaping portion of what reminded me of overdone kraft mac and cheese with more milk than cheese. And rice instead of pasta. Later on joined Adi and Maya for lunch and they taught me a card game called "Yanev" (at least that's the Hebrew name)

So my last full day in Mcleod has arrived and today I'm awoken by someone playing the flute. You don't need an alarm clock around here! We enjoyed about 2 minutes of sun and then the clouds filled in again. Monsoon is supposed to end any day now, but the last 3 days have been a washed out mess, preventing the trek I wanted to do before leaving. Oh well.So it's finally time to say farewell to Mcleod Ganj and my Dharmkot family. I paid my rent, gave Babiloo a 50 cent Euro to add to his 3 coin collection, presented Vinod my much treasured Nashbar windproof top and chilled on the terrace for the last time.Before heading down I made my way to the Vipassana Center and made a donation. Not much since I don't really like the way they do the course, but enough to cover the expenses for 10 days. And so all that is left is a trip to Dehli........

I had to take a rickshaw to the bus because the road is still washed out. We were asked to pay 10rps per bag which a German lady refused to pay and would not shut up about. Technically she is right, but she obviously doesn't get the fact that arguing incessantly over 25 cents is really disruptive to everyone elses peace and quiet.
I sat next to an English bloke and we talked about Vipassana and rolled on thru an ear popping descent into the Indian plain.

I arrived in Delhi about 7:15am and wandered thru PaharGanj in search of a room. Settled on the Anruk Hotel for 170rps. Had some breakfast and read the Indian paper. Apparently India is really screwed up.!!!! Problem after problem and corruption piled on corruption.

In the afternoon I took a stroll past Laxmi Narayan Birla Marichar (Hindu Temple) as well as a Buddhist Temple right next door. A snake charmer cornered me so I took some pics. Then he demanded 500 rps ($12) which was the best Indian joke I had heard yet. I gave him 10 rps. Continuing on I went thru Talktora Garden and it was nice to actually see something pleasant in Delhi. Made it back to the hotel just after dark and set up a wake up call and a taxi for the following morning.

Got to the airport at 7:30am and at first the flight was shown as being on time, but a few minutes later it came up as delayed. This was a good thing though since my ticket showed a departure time of 10:20am, but the actual rescheduled departure time was supposed to be 7:40am!!!!
It actually left at 1 pm. That's Air India. I killed time talking with a Spanish couple and a couple of American guys. Zach was kind enough to let me borrow his travel book for thailand so I was able to get some idea of where to go when I landed. In fact, he also gave me "The Alchemist" to read. (Which I haven't yet down.)

So here we go. Here comes Thailand....... :)

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Amritsar- The Golden Temple

The Golden Temple

Unlike last morning my alarm actually roused me from sleep this morning. Ofer and I walked down to McLeod again in the pitch black only to find there again will be no bus due to the landslide. So we joined an Israeli couple and took a taxi the back way to Dharmashala.

The bus left from there promptly at 5am and we had room to relax for a while. It filled up later on though and twice during the journey I had 3 adults and one child crammed into three narrow seats. The last kid was bus-sick and throwing up!

Arriving in Amritsar, we took a bicycle rickshaw to the Golden Temple. First on our agenda was to find a place to stay. You can, in fact, stay and even eat for free at the temple, but we didn't feel like taking advantage of the Sihk hospitality. We settle on the Sita Niwas Hotel.

So Ofer wants a smoke so we find what appears to be a park and take a seat. A young boy comes over and with broken English and hand gestures stops us from a particularly bad social and legal no-no. We are actually on Temple property and there is a strict no smoking zone within 100 meters of the property!

After some lunch we headed over to the Golden Temple. Since your head must be covered we took our zip-off pant legs and placed them on our heads. Then we deposited our shoes, washed our hands and finally convince the gaurd we weren't bringing in anything unholy besides our corporeal selves. The Temple is impressive and indeed "golden". The temple itself stands in the middle of a square lake filled with Holy Water which the faithful drink AND bathe in! Bordering the lake on all four sides is a marble boardwalk and edging this are immaculately white buildings which enclose the whole complex.We started to walk around, but quickly realized that we were the only ones going counter clockwise. Oops! Ok, so heading in the right direction we did a slow lap around the walkway. At one point we stopped to take photos and attracted a very large group of friendly and curious spectators. Everyone in Amritsar seems friendly and curious. We took a round of pics with at least 20 Indians and made our way to the Temple entrance.
The inside, as one might imagine, is also decked in gold and you discover that the holy music being heard all over the Temple grounds originates from a three man band playing from the center of the temple.

Next on the agenda was to secure a ride to the border for the evening cerimonies. Eleven of us crammed into a jeep and after about an hour we arrived at the border. Along for the ride was: a few Indians, a Canadian, 3 Germans, and Alex & Alaya, bro and sis from France. A short walk brings us to a crowd which leads to a que which leads ~5000 spectators into the bleachered observation area. As foreign dignitaries we were sat in the VIP section.

While the soldiers do some well advised stretching an emcee gets things going. Various Hindustania cheers ring out, call and answer. Flags are furling! Some of them really get into it. Although they stop short of "doing the wave" they are constantly jumping out of there seats to cheer. It's difficult to see over to the Pakistani side and impossible to hear, but I assume the scene is very much the same on the other side of the border.

After about 30 minutes of this the soldiers steal the show. About 15 guards with funny hats participate on either side. I think the Pakistanis with their bad ass black uniforms have the upper hand on the Indians. The cerimony itself is hilarious! They are all bonafide graduates of Monty Pythons School of Funny Walking. They start by all marching in line at a very fast pace with flailing limbs towards the border. At the gate they do a little jiggy and all march back to where they started. Then they all get to do it solo. Each shaking hands with their counterpart on the other side of the border.
After each has had their turn to shine, they begin the lowering of the flags. They lowered ever so slowly, but once they are down they are swiftly folded and just as swiftly marched back to their respective resting places for the evening. After the flags are gone the show is over and the Sikhs and Hindus on each side rush the gate. To greet or perhaps taunt their neighbors. It would be interesting to know what kind of dialog such a nationalistic show of peace & friendship generates between peoples of two nuclear powers on shaky ground?! On the walk back to the jeep we are approached every 8-10 feet by someone selling pictures and music Cds related to the show.

Back in Amristar we joined the French siblings for dinner. Somewhere there are a pair of marketing directors blowing a fuse. In this restaraunt they serve both Coke and Pepsi. And of course if you order a Coke you will inevitably get a Pepsi and vice versa.

After dinner we all went back to see the Golden Temple at night. Very nice. We took some more pics and then said Au Revoir to our French Friends.

We took breakfast at the hotel and despite the amazed looks we got, decided to walk to the bus stand since we had time to kill. It was hot and kind of far, but along the way we saw some things of interest. Including summer school and some interesting school buses. Tiny rickshaws crammed with tiny school children and their book bags strapped all over the vehicle. One school bus was a minivan which a group of students had to chase down after push starting it.

On the way home I got to see some nice scenery and chill to some of Ofer's Cds. As we approached Dharmashala the clouds hung low and dark. As we arrived it was raining hard! Welcome home. Capped of the evening as usual.