Airports and absolutely nothing

Travel blog, the final Chapter

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I come to you, from amidst the crying babies and fluro duty free lighting. Where tired travellers spend too much money on choclate bars as they have time to kill between flights, too much time. It’s now been seven hours, seven hours of Singapore Airport, and I’ve still got two to go. OI.VEY.  Really shot myself in the foot with this cheap return flight, and I’ve got another bloody stop over in Melbourne before I reach home.

Sigh.

The trip is done; she’s been had. And now the bags are packed and stowed, the moneys all been spent, and Soph has had enough of Airports.

The last few days were great, a whole lot of nothing. We arrived in Phuket, caught a ferry over to Phi Phi island and lay around for a day and a half doing nada. Then we ferried back to a swanky resort on Kata beach and spent another day and a half doing nothing. I tell you, I’m good at nothing. Lying by a pool, with sunblock and a good book, and the occaional beverage; heaven.

Phi Phi was beautiful, only being there for two nights I can’t say that I saw everything, but the waters were blue and the sand was white and our hotel was expensive and much nicer than anywhere else we’d stayed.

There were the bars with the neon lights and the blaring music, but being pre-peak season none of them were really ‘going off”, but they all come equipped with a fire dance display. Performed by young boys, wearing black skinny jeans and cut off shirts, they swing their poi’s and sticks ablaze to a modern soundtrack of western metal and rock. It was hard.core.

No doubt fire dancing is an ancient tradition of the islands and the culture,  but it was fascinating to see how it has been transformed into the modern world of today. The boys perform the dazzling tricks with seeming nonchalance, like they don’t care, but these moves take skill, and they’ve no doubt practiced for hours. We deduce it must be the thing to do for young boys on the island. In the absence of skateboarding and tagging, fire dancing is how you earn you cool stripes. Everyone does it, so you wanna be good, have to impress those ladies. And I must say these ladies felt the heat. Those boys looked about 15 for the most part, but dah-yam, there’s something about watching a man tossing flaming sticks…

And there really isn’t much else to tell of the last few days; we lay by the pool, we lay on our balcony, we read books, we drank cocktails, we got a little bit sunburnt. Out last night at Kata we spent at a bar called Bar Hollywood, a modest wooden hole in the wall, where we drank local beer and played copious amounts of Connect  Four. A game I can freely admit I am really awful at, not just being modest. I am good at drawing, and I am good at making lists and organizing, and I am really really awful at Connect Four. Regardless of this fact I still love to play it.

Then it was time to say goodbye. Annabel comes highly recommended as a travel companion, and it was sad to see her go.

Have to say I am a little looking forward to getting back though. The holidays been wonderful but there are the things you miss about home. I’ve been fantasizing about doing a load of washing for days, some of the clothes ain’t smelling so peachy keen. And sleeping in my own bed, and not living out of a suitcase and having to artfully re-pack it every few days. And my cat.

Ohhhh Charlie, not long now! You’ll probably turn your tail up at me, and with my long absence who’s to blame you, but I shall be so pleased to see your tail none the less.

And of coarse my friends and my family, I’ve missed you all a whole heap. It’ll be wonderful to see everyone again.

Back to life. Back to reality.

This has been not so novice traveler Soph, signing off. It’s been a pleasure talking to you. Until next time.

xx

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Monks, mammals and massages

Travel blog Chapter four

Monks, mammals and massages
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What do you call a pig that does karate? Pork chop.
Right so nothing to do with anything, but was Bel’s suggestion at an opening line: start with a joke, people like that. Bet it killed.
Here we are in Thailand, and the first thing we notice is how quiet it is. We find ourselves a nearby bar, order 2 Long Island ice teas and sit with the crickets, so to speak. Perhaps because we’ve just come from the madness of Hanoi and got so used to the chaos, but Chiang Mai on first impression seems tranquil.
The streets are wide and there are pavements to walk on, there are fountains and fast food joints everywhere. Thailand has adapted to the western way of things, compared to Vietnam who has stuck to their traditions. None the less we vow it will only be Thai food, with the exception of the gateway Macca’s  at the airport.
A new daily routine takes place in Chiang Mai; in the mornings we do temples.
Now not that I’ve been many places at all, but the Thai really know how to put together a temple. The carvings, the statues, the wall paintings, the GOLD. I know, let’s make it gold freakin everything. They’re just breath taking, you see the tops of them over sidewalk walls, oohh look at THAT one. We by no means do them all, there are simply too many, and quite frankly after awhile you do get templed out, but we manage our fair share. And we do make it up the mountain to see Doi Suthep.
The origins of this temple are somewhat shrouded in mystery, but there are theories and legends, the main of which is the White Elephant.
The story goes a  monk found a relic which was believed to be Buddha’s shoulder bone, it had magical powers and could glow and disappear. He took it to the king, and it replicated into 2 pieces. One was enshrined and the other was placed on the back of a white elephant. The elephant went off into the jungle and climbed up Doi Suthep mountain. He trumpeted 3 times and then lay down and died. The king took it as a good omen and ordered a Temple to be constructed.
It is easily the busiest and most visited of all the temples we see. You have to catch a bus up the mountain, then climb the 309 steps to the temple. Normal temple dress code rules apply; no shorts, no bare shoulders. Bel and I are prepared though we see several silly white people in tank tops and khaki cut offs that get sent to the wardrobe department of borrowed sarongs.
The temple is beautiful, and wins the prize of most gold everything. Though we have come early it is swarming with visitors and worshipers. There are flowers to purchase and place as offerings, candles to light,  and donation boxes next to absolutely everything. We enter on our knees with the throng, and bow our heads as a monk douses us with holy water and says a prayer for our happiness. He then ties holy cotton on each wrist, though the women are directed to his assistant; monks do not have permission to touch a lady.
So take that world with your average paying job, no credits to my name and no boyfriend, I’m now equipped with holy cotton for success in my every endeavor. Things are looking up.
Midday in our routine means pool time at the hotel. It’s getting hot by this stage, and the mornings wandering and worshiping have us in need of a rest. Our hotel is budget, but it does have a pool, about the only  good thing going for it as the staff are grumpy and the wifi connection is  frustratingly, ridiculously bad.
The afternoons are for pampering, and we manage to cover all bases. Foot massage one day, manicure the next. On the second afternoon we find ourselves lying in our undies on mattresses on the floor getting the strangest rub down. I always get slightly off put when your masseuses quietly talk to each other during a ‘couples massages’, worse still when they giggle, are they laughing at me? Look at this white girls wobbly thighs, she come to Thailand and eat too many noodle. Or maybe it’s not about me, and just daily banter, did you see Steve’s new bike? Who’s he kidding, I know what he earns. Can’t decide what’s worse, but would you just be quiet I’m trying to be zen here.
We also try out the fish spa, the one where you dangle your feet into a tank of flesh eating little fishes that gnaw at your dead skin. Something I’ve been dying to try, which Annabel partook in very willingly, then spent the half hour an anxious wreck panicking about the whole situation. Its OK, they’re just very small fish. The sensation is very strange, and at first I couldn’t keep my feet still for tickling, but goodness I was fascinated, and after all that Bel did remark at how silky smooth her feets were.
And then evenings meant shopping, as if we hasn’t done enough already, with a range of night time markets to explore. We demonstrate our spending abilities once more, Bel could teach a course on buying cushion covers, while I excel at pants. We both had difficulty zipping up the luggage this morning, THAT’S it, no more in Phuket.
Our last day in Chiang Mai we go to The Elephant Nature park. It’s a bit of a must in Asia, and the parks are numerous. You can do elephant treks through the jungle, see them perform shows and paint pictures, but I’m not interested in seeing working elephants with feet manacled to chains, we want the real deal.
Founded by a tiny little woman called Lek (which in Thai means small) is an elephant sanctuary. A valley of green surrounded by rolling hills where the elephants roam free. All having been rescued by Lek from abuse and diabolical ‘working’ situations.
Thai law puts elephants on par with cattle (regardless of their cultural significance and religious status) and means they are the property of their owner, who can do what they like with them. Before the logging industry was banned in Thailand they were it’s muscle. Now it’s the tourist industry and the worlds fascination with elephants sees them as nothing more than a money maker.
Each working elephant is put through ‘training’ at the age of about 4. They are placed inside a cage called the ‘crush’ barely big enough to contain them, their feet are bound, and for four days they are beaten relentlessly into submission. The males stay in the crush for up to seven days as they tend to put up more of a fight. We are shown a video of this ‘training’, and it’s just sickening. Baby elephants getting beaten by about 6 men at a time until they get the command right, and they have nails on the end of those sticks. There is even a shaman on each site, lighting incense and saying prayers; all the pain is necessary, they must yield to their master.
Every working elephant is put through this ordeal, and that’s just the first few days. The process of making them obedient takes weeks.
The money making scheme of elephants goes so far as the streets of Bangkok, where you see elephants on crowded sidewalks, terrified of all the passing traffic, while their owners sell bags of food to tourists to feed them; it’s a gold mine.
It’s absolutely disgusting.
Lek, the granddaughter of a shaman wants to put a stop to all the elephant abuse, but sadly she’s one of the only few speaking out.
She buys elephants where she can and brings them to her sanctuary. Many of them have broken legs, some are blind (the eyes are a weak spot and a target for cruelty). She started with four, and now the family has grown to 35, 2 of which are babies, and oh man is there anything cuter than a baby elephant running? No there is not.
 Each elephant has their own trainer, that feeds them and wanders the park with them. They are taught not with sticks and whips but with words, and pats and love. Though they come here as strangers, four different herds have formed amongst them, and they move in their new family’s.
The park also has a medical clinic on site, to look after the elephants health, one of two in Thailand and the only one in the local area. Lek allows the other nearby parks to use the clinic free of charge, else their elephants get no medical help at all.
The task of saving them isn’t easy, each one costs thousands to buy, and they eat daily tonnes. Volunteers pour in from around the world and pay for a working holiday on the camp. Emptying the daily trucks of their diet: watermelons, pumpkins, bananas and cucumbers. Helping clean, and run the site, and manage the dogs.
That’s another thing; as well as the gentle giants Lek also rescues dogs from Bangkok, and anyone who’s traveled Asia will know how many strays you see wandering the streets. The park is home to more than 400 rescued muts, some have lost legs, or just look a little mangy. But they are fed and cared for and are happy as Larry. Anywhere you go on the site there will be a pooch napping, or happily running alongside the paddocks, the elephants pay them no mind.
We help feed the elephants, we walk in the fields with them, and we help bath them in the river. It’s incredible. There are no sticks, or chains, there are no fences, they can go where they like. And Lek is there herself, smiling and shaking hands with people, followed everywhere by a herd of dogs.
Also the buffet lunch is the best meal we’ve had thus far in Thailand (Vietnam’s winning on that front)
If you are heading to Thailand, this is the only elephant park to choose.
We finish Chiang Mai with an evening of Khum Khantoke; dinner and a show of traditional Thai dance. The costumes are exquisite, the dancers are beautiful, and we have our second great meal of the day and eat ourselves into a state of pain. The night is marred only by the hoards of Chinese tourists that swarm around us and make a lot of noise.
Now we’re sitting on a plane, Bels just been telling me about her nightmare last night where some guy stole her blue Nissan (she doesn’t have a blue Nissan but it was still scary) and we’re heading to Phuket. The last leg of the journey, then soon it’ll be home time.
Big love to you all
xx

Sails, sweat and squid

Travel blog Chapter three

Sails, sweat and squid
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And once more, here we are. Hungover at the airport waiting for the next flight, rather be in bed but what can you do. First world problems of being on holiday, I drank too much beer and now I’m tired.
Hanoi was chaos.
After sleepy little Hoi An it seemed like the busiest place on earth, though we didn’t see this for the first few hours. We arrived at our hotel at lunchtime and exhausted first fell into bed for a siesta, with the calming background sounds of bike horns and shouting neighbors.
That evening we had a walking street food tour booked, something our hotel receptionist found hilarious, silly westerners. But you don’t need?! You can just try! Listen lady this tour came highly recommended, and besides which we’ve already paid for it, so just point it out on the map would you.
We meet our guide on the market corner and it was a relief to be able to just follow someone around the mayhem. Hung took us from stall to stall, explaining the local food, buying things for us to try along the way. He also filled us in on other local trivia about the population’s living habits. Their homes are above their shops, both of which are very small, and as a result they like spending their time outside. Pretty much all daily activities take place on the street, the wares for sale spill out onto the side walks, and the trademark plastic chairs and tables (small child size) are everywhere. Any remaining space is taken up by motorbikes, so pedestrians have no choice but the road.But there really isn’t many of them, everyone’s on bikes.
Each street is named for the item it sells and the shops are grouped together; shoes, belts, paint, wedding decorations. There’s a different street for whatever you need, which actually makes a lot of sense.
In Hoi An we were heckled relentlessly by the vendors ‘hello Madame you buy something please’ but here they just stare, it’s a relief though a little unnerving at first. But that’s just what they do; sitting on the street is like TV, and we are the strange white folk, lost and perspiring, I’d stare too.
Day two we get picked up nice and early for our tour of Halong bay, which starts first with a 3 hour drive to the harbor, stopping at various gift shops on the way.
Our ship is the dragon pearl 3; three stories with a sun deck on top, and a crew with a captain in uniform and everything. Our guides name is Phuc, pronounced like the f word, which she explains gets many laughs but is actually a very nice name in Vietnam. She speaks English, Vietnamese and French, very impressive if not somewhat tedious having to listen to each set of instructions and explanations of history in all 3.
We sail slowly into Halong bay eating a mammoth lunch on the deck, while Phuc tells us about the how the bay was formed by a combination of limestone, rain and earthquakes. It is just breathtaking, over and over again. There are two thousand rock formations, it just goes on for miles, we sit and stare and take turns saying wow.
Our cruise ship has their own island which we dock at for the afternoons itinerary, explained extensively in 3 languages. We explore the cave, which for a time was inhabited by a fishing family, we kayak around some of the surrounding rock formations inspecting the many thousand oysters clinging to the undersides, and we swim in the almost lukewarm water. Though Bel and I are both off put slightly when we spot several large jellyfish drifting in the shallows, and make a hasty but dignified exit out of the water.
Dinner is another smorgasbord affair of local seafood and the chefs sculptural creations of eagles and dragons made of watermelon and pumpkin, and is followed by some late night squid fishing. Most of the other guests give it a glance then head to bed, but we get hooked and are at it for hours; me because I manage to snare 2 of them and get addicted, and Bel because she just can’t catch a break. It’s us, an Australian couple and an old Vietnamese man, our bossy/friendly expert on everything.
Our crew then invite us into the kitchen to eat our catch. It’s 11pm by this stage and no ones hungry after that feast of a dinner, but hells yeah I’m game, I just caught that sucker a minute ago. It’s fantastic fun, the kitchen is small and cramped, the crew are shirtless and smoking, frying up squid, passing around beers  and all talking over each other, who knows what they’re saying. Old guru keeps pushing us to eat the heads, he has his reasons, and nodding in approval, and Bel is invited to try tobacco from
the special pipes very popular in Vietnam. Our street food guide Hung pointed these pipes out to us ‘ many people think he smoking opium, but it is just tobacco‘ and much cheaper too.
Though a packet of cigarettes here goes for about a dollar fifty, they’re just asking you to smoke. But don’t worry Gran, Poppy, mum, I have not been swayed, smoke free since 93, well 2007 actually but that doesn’t rhyme.
Our cabins on board are gorgeous, complete with silky oriental dressing gowns, a bedside view of the ocean, and the best shower of my life. It has a round porthole window which we leave wide open to gape at the passing rocks and ocean while lathering; bliss. A cool breeze and hot water on your skin really is a good combo, I fell in love with that shower.
In the morning we sail over to the biggest of the floating fishing villages of Halong bay, population 300. All the little houses, beautifully painted in teals, blues and yellows, are rigged atop plastic barrels, with planks providing walkways. There is a small school house, and for the benefit of us tourists a museum and a gift shop. The houses have TVs, and hammocks, and a large majority have dogs, who peer forlornly at the other pooches across the water. I even see a cat on one, who manages to swipe a small fish from the family’s net. We are ferried around the village on water taxi’s,manned for the most part by women. They keep a fishing net handy to scoop up rubbish along the way, something you see a sad amount of in these beautiful surroundings. We gladly offer to help, so our driver can concentrate on the oars, taking turns passing the rubbish net between us, feeling like Captain Planet.
Then it’s back on the boat, time for a bit of sunbathing, then lunch, then we’re heading back to the mainland.
On the drive back we stop this time to watch the local water puppet show, something we were both trying and failing to grasp in our minds eye. Water puppetry is an ancient folk art of Vietnam. We are presented with a series of ‘dances’ depicting local customs and holy creatures: cultivating rice, the mating of the Phoenix. Painted wooden puppets are maneuvered through a stage of water. It’s a little strange, and we’re quite tired, but its wonderful to be treated to some quaint local culture, and then it’s back to the big city.
We spend our last day wandering and exploring, and utilizing all modes of transport. We tut tut to the first National University of Vietnam, we motorbike to the Dong Xuan markets , and we walk everywhere else and get lost a whole bunch. These streets are mental, and some of them are Not on the map dammit.
By this stage we’ve mastered the art of crossing the street; slowly but directly, crossing one bike at a time. We’re also pros at shopping, hate to brag, but the bag IS getting full.
We set a goal that in Hanoi it will be street food only, no restaurants, and it proves to be great fun. There are numerous vendors to choose from on every corner, the average meal now costing a dollar. The favorite is the Banh My, a fresh hot French bread stick with pâté, pork, sliced cucumber and chilli sauce; winning combo. I’ve resolved to try and re-create these once home. We spend one lunchtime bowl of spicy noodle soup with Morning glory (a name I still find hard to take seriously for a vegetable) perched precariously on the smallest of the plastic stools yet, getting told off first for accidentally sitting on the ‘table’, the stool only a fraction bigger.Me being in mini skirt and only being an inch off the ground this was no easy feat, and was in danger of wearing my lunch when new customers needed to get past.
The heat in Hanoi is extreme, by far the hottest of the trip yet, and sadly this is our one hotel without a pool. I don’t think I’ve ever sweated so much in my life, our last day of walking round I looked like I’d been for a swim. Mmmm paints quite a picture. Remember lads I’m single, and I caught that bouquet.
The sky is a constant greyish haze, there’s rubbish underfoot everywhere you walk, the sidewalks are packed, the roads are bedlam, and we get constantly lost. It’s mayhem, and I’ve never been anywhere like it, but I loved it.
The Vietnam leg is at an end, and we’re both a little sad to say goodbye. And wouldn’t you know I’ve only just just figured out the currency without having to look at my piece of paper, drat.
Bring on Thailand,
Bye for now xx

Bombs, boats and bicycles

Travel blog

Chapter 2

Ok, am sitting at Da Nang airport waiting for the next flight and am uber hungover, so will attempt to make this quick.
imageHoi An was beautiful, Bel and I both fell in love. The quaint little side streets, the boats with their painted eyes, the wooden shutters, the flower overhangs, the lantern adornment. To be blunt;  it was all just really fucking gorgeous.
There was an abundance of sweet little restaurants, and being pre-peak season they all wanted our business, it was a constant pick of the bunch, and we favored the ones by the river based on scenic views.
The river in itself was a tad murky, but its surrounding lanterns and lights and little boats was picture perfect. We could not get enough of sitting at our balcony tables, with our incredible $7 meals and just staring at it.
The food was amazing, a particular favorite was a bistro called Seedlings, just across the red bridge. They had only been open a few weeks, and both times we dined Bel and I were the only customers, but they started what quickly became a spring roll obsession with their crispy pork. Oh my god, hands down best spring roll I’ve ever had. They were also our introduction to the clay pot, an ingenious way of cooking, meat has never been so tender. Bel made it her mission to find one at the markets. Best 5 bucks she ever spent.
Our first day we had coking school, which started with a tour of the local markets fresh produce. Cows hearts and livers, plucked naked chickens and ducks, every kind of fish and crustation: an open plan warehouse of mayhem. Our guide led us from each delicacy to the next, explaining the different local fruits and veges (fun fact; oranges have green skin here, making them look like super sized limes). The fish and meat is all fresh from that morning and the vendors have a cut off time to sell everything by 1pm . Any leftovers will then be taken home and refrigerated, and sold the next day at half price. And FYI, that’s when you get the fly’s and the smell. I was standing in a room full of animal insides and fish bits and the nose was none the wiser. Good sign.
We then jumped on a boat and traveled downriver to cooking school, and it was awesome. Remind me to make all of those things for you one day, we got to try the clay pot for ourselves, and phewf eggplant will never be the same.
Tailors peppered every street, and me being the nerd I am had a prepared folder of the dresses I wanted made, but even so this proved to be the most stressful
event of the week. Having to choose fabrics out of millions, with your tailor girl following you round pointing out floral’s saying “you like this one” hmm, no, not sure about that one. You want 2 dresses, how bout 3, get it in blue as well, what about a jacket? How come you don’t want no pants? Pants? Yes? No thank you, I’ll stick with my pictures.
The whole debacle left us exhausted and in need of a drink. Luckily happy hour is most hours in Hoi An, and a cocktail sets you back about 4 dollars.
Day 2  we hired bikes for a buck, consulted the map then cycled approx 40 minutes to Cua Dai beach. I loved the cycling; the traffic and intersections with their lack of  any kind of system or lanes at first seem terrifying become thrilling, I relished the traffic lights and the breeze on my skin. I could be just another local, well not really, the fact I am a westerner tourist is glaringly obvious by the amount of attention I attract from shop owners, but on a bike, it feels like I could be.
We have a beautiful day lying around on the beach, dampened slightly by the resident chair natzi in charge of sun loungers and her specific ideas about where we are allowed to sit. Lunch that day is our most extravagant meal yet; $11 for a crab and 4 giant king prawns each, all of whom were swimming amicably in the tank out the back until they ended up on my plate. We make a fantastic mess with the nut crackers prying apart crab shells, it’s carnage.
Day 3 we hop on an embarrassingly large yellow tour bus and head to the My Son  ruins. The site of the ancient religious temples, built by the Champers people (descending from Indonesia) in the 2cd century, which the Americans then bombed during the Vietnam war. Our tour guide for this occasion is Vietnamese Robo-cop, a wealth of knowledge in aviators and a voice made for game show hosting.
The ruins are beautiful, abandoned by the Champers  people in the 15th century they lay unnoticed for 300 years in the rainforest, until the French discovered them in the 1800s. Out of the original 70 temple structures only 20 survived the American bombing, and they are heavily damaged. There is some reconstruction taking place, but even so no one knows the special technique used by the Champers people in laying their brick, which is far superior and somehow evades erosion and whether damage.
 We manage to buy something on every meander down the street; two white girls carrying at least 3 bags between us encourages the vendors no end; we are the target market. Excuse me Madame you buy something, you look in my shop please, very good quality, very good price. You want another one? Must remember to pace myself, my bag is alarmingly full already.
Day 4 we cycle to An Bang beach, and make friends with a Canadian and English duo, somehow evading the fact that we are not also 21. It just didn’t come up.
Backpacker drinking holes are numerous; pay 80,000 ($4 Australian dollars) and its all you can drink all night, with dancing on the pool table encouraged. But our favorite bar by far is on a boat.
Just down from the red bridge, permanently docked and adorned with purple lanterns, you climb aboard via the plank, seat yourself at a rickety little table made from old sewing machines and listen to the wonderfully talented acoustic trio, with front man Korean Brian Adams. This guy can sing, and boy can they all play. Quite pleased to have such a trump card up our sleeves we take our 21 year old catch back there for our last night in ancient town.
SO much shopping, so many incredible $5 meals, so many beautifully painted pastel buildings.  Hoi An we love you.
(Right so not quite as brief as I was hoping.)
Feeling like a bit of a bitch now as I have just made the lady on the phone get out of my plane seat, no regard for the system here, but you know what I don’t care. It’s the window seat, and we’re about to fly into Hanoi. Move please.
Bye for now xx

White sand and weddings

Travel blog. Chapter One
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I write to you from my plane seat: novice traveler Soph is on her own, on a flight bound for Ho Chi Minh city. Well eventually; we have a stop over in Singapore first, damn cheap flights.There are at least three small children crying on this plane, and we have yet to take off. Awesome.

The first leg of the trip is over: Bali done. And it was effing fantastic.
Jewls, Annabel and myself  flew over and arrived  late on Sunday night, and quickly made fools of ourselves at the Denpasar airport. I walked away from the ATM with my credit card still in it, Jewls allowed the scoundrel boys posing as valets to acquire all of our luggage and Bel headed out towards customs forgetting her suitcase was still standing next to the roundabout. I’m sure there were locals watching us and laughing, but we made it through to the other side with all our  belongings.
Wow, that babies really going for it, damn children.
Jewls and I headed to Ubud for two nights, where we met Lindsay and did a day biking trip up from the volcanoes down through the rice paddies. Our guide stopped us several times, to show us local plants, to educate us on the local coffee and allow us to try it with the tobacco, to see the rice harvesting in action, and to walk through a family’s home. That was something of an eye opener. There were 4 family’s living in the ‘house’, most of the rooms were open plan, with one or two walls and a roof. The kitchen was a small black box, with a fire in a grate, a stack of wood and a bucket of murky water. Our guide talked us through the traditions that took place with each room; the grandparents the only ones having a room to themselves, but lending it out to the young ones on their wedding night. Everybody in the family works, and there is no retirement, you work until you die. The living room table being the place where a dead family’s member would lie for several days before cremation. If the family was too poor, they would bury the dead, and then exhume the body  several weeks later, at which point it would have started to rot and decompose. It was then the job of the boys of the family to scrape the bones clean.
I think scraping your Grandmas bones of any lasting flesh would be enough to turn anyone onto a vegetarian.
From Ubud we traveled by boat to the Gili Islands, on my birthday as it turned out, which for the most part was spent waiting around. We stupidly cancelled our previous travel arrangements as our hotel dude assured us we were paying too much, and he would sort it better for us. He didn’t, he mucked it all up, and meant we had an extra three hours to sit around waiting to get on the boat. Wonderful Jewls was chirpy and optimistic throughout, putting up with grumpy Soph, and saying marvelous things like “oh well, we’ll get there, this is what happens” and indeed, things like this do happen, when you’re traveling, and this is something I’m learning. To roll with the punches.
And get there we did. Two boat hours later and we were standing on the white sand hailing a horse and cart, the only method of transport on the island. They come wonderfully adorned with Pom poms and tassels, though I know Lindsay for one is a tad concerned for their well being. I did see one stop in protest while having to cart a particularly fat tourist and his luggage.
Our home for the next few days was the Gili Trawangan resort, a hotel on the expensive end of the Bali scale and worth every penny. For days my biggest concern was which pool to lay by, and deciding which cocktail to have next.
Over the next few days a constant trickle of guests arrived for the wedding of Jess and Mat, and what an incredible wedding it was. As you can imagine Jess put in an huge amount of work into everything; the decorations, the drinks, the activities, the bridal party’s outfits, oh my god the bridal parties outfits! A strict blanket ban on social media wedding photos is still in operation, so I’m afraid I cannot post any photos just yet, but let me tell you it all looked incredible.
The ceremony took place under an archway of driftwood and daisy’s, and was the event I have been working towards for the past year. My debut as a celebrant was finally at hand, and thankfully it was such a busy morning getting everything ready I barely had time to get nervous. Turns out the hardest thing about being a celebrant and marrying your friends, is trying not to cry during the ceremony, and as Mat and Jess had written such beautiful vows this proved a real challenge.
But I have to admit, saying “by the power vested in me” (cos I have that power) and getting to pronounce your friends husband and wife, is pretty cool. What an honor,  Jess and Mat I love you dearly, and I’d do it all over again 🙂
The ceremony was followed by a garden party of cocktails, and croquet, with swing sets and hammocks and fish cakes under coconut trees. The heat of the day was finally starting to go down by this stage, as many a female was concerned about a shiny face and frizzy hair whilst in her best frock, and with so many cameras snapping away this was a very real concern.
Dinner took place amidst a web of fairy lights under the stars, and was a feast of local delicacies, I was particularly pleased to be eating lobster, I think I was born to eat lobster and I can’t understand why I don’t do it more. A shower of rain then broke out and had all the guests fleeing for cover under the biggest of the pagodas. But no matter, our waiters ferried over the champagne and we got onto the speeches there.
The rain stopped, the bride and groom let off lanterns into the sky, and had their first dance. Then the rain started again and we all said fuck it, lets get wet. Dancing in the rain under the stars was a great decision, the staff even brought out a tarpaulin later on, with dish washing liquid and a hose and made us a slip n slide. Oh and I caught the bouquet; watch out boys.
The last dozen stragglers, including the bride and groom wound up in our pool at 4am.  Phewf, what an incredible night, what an amazing wedding.
The day after saw many sore heads and had most people not being able to manage more than lying by the pool and feebly motioning for the waiter, but for us Stones it was family time.
Sandy hired a glass bottom boat and we headed out on the water for some snorkeling, which was incredible. Our guides instructed us at each point to follow them/the current and that hopefully we might spot some turtles: and what do you know we saw seven. They’re one of those funny creatures that on land appear so slow and awkward, but underwater they are so  graceful. They look more like they’re flying than swimming. I followed one for a stretch before diving down to swim alongside him. A sideways glance assured him I was no threat, and we swam along in peace for several strides, before he accelerated and took off. Then he did a poo. Life win.
I think we were all quite sad to leave the Gilis, they had become a temporary home, with all of our friends conveniently sleeping next door. I waved them goodbye and proceeded to get sunburnt on the roof of the boat ride back. We spent a night in Seminyak shopping and eating Mexican, and now here I am on the plane.
Bali was fantastic fun. I learned to watch out not to step on the offerings, which are  placed in the most inconvenient pieces of footpath. I learned to ask for no sugar when you order a juice as everything is heavily sedated in sweetness. And I finally got the hang of the money and currency conversion, which will now be of no use whatsoever, but still feels satisfying.
I’ve left all the others behind, and thank god the babies have all stopped crying. I’m a little bit burnt, I’ve given up on brushing my hair, and am wearing the first beaded bracelet of probably many.
In Ho Chi Minh I’ll meet Annabel, my other Annabel from high school, to do Vietnam and Thailand together. Neither of us have done any real traveling before so as you can imagine we’re both incredibly excited and fairly ignorant, but we’ll learn. We’ve both also just broken up with boys, so some single gal pal time overseas is just what the doctor ordered.
Ah damn there goes that baby again.
Bye for now, and ill write again soon.
Big love xx

The art of

It’s Sunday. And it is a combination of being both very windy and yet very sunny. Sand in the face due to extreme wind rules out the beach, and I am fairly hungover, so the fact that I am doing any sort blog1of activity is a bonus. Normally I like to lie still in the sun for several hours then order pizza, and rest assured phase two of the plan will still be carried out, but I felt a sudden desire to write something to you. No doubt  you will have noticed I haven’t written anything in awhile.

You may wonder why; there is no real answer, I just haven’t. For lack of a subject, not really, for a break and a breather and an evaluation of ones goings on, possibly. I choose D, all of the above, I just wasn’t sure so I didn’t.

That’s not to say I haven’t being doing anything, quite the opposite, I’ve been doing not quite everything. One thing in particular is I have started a new project, of sorts. What the final product will be; a show, a film, I’m not sure, at this stage it’s just researching and learning, which is proving rather fun. And the subject is Tarot.

I’ve always thought I’d like to know more about it. Whether I was attracted to the visual smorgasbord depicted on the cards, or the strange kind of magic around it, D again, it posed an intriguing pull. Whether this project comes to anything or not, I am excited to finally feel like I am getting to look behind the curtain, and start to grasp at an understanding.

I started with the basics.

There are 78 cards in a deck and these are split into the 56 Minor Arcana and the 22 Major Arcana. The Minor Arcana divide into four suits, with 10 pip cards in each numbering from ace to ten, and 4 court cards: Page, Knight, Queen, King. Similar to a regular deck, but instead of Hearts, Clubs, Spades and Diamonds, in Tarot you have Cups, Wands, Swords and Pentacles.

blog2Each suit has different associations and moods that come with it. Wands represents the element of fire, and is concerned with inspiration and creativity and passion. Cups is water, and is emotion and feeling and love. Swords are Air, they are action and intellect and conflict. And Pentacles are earth. They are material aspects like work, and home and stuff, but also serve as a reminder that there are two sides to every coin.

The Major Arcana, meaning ‘great or big secrets’, represents the most fundamental energies of life. Some of them are characters, individuals who personify a certain quality, such as the Hermit and the Fool, some are ideas or themes, such as strength and judgement. While others are tangible elements, and are deeper forces at work: the moon, the sun, the star.

It’s interesting to encounter these cards and find you have natural associations with them even before you have looked up their meaning. For example ‘Death’ is the most feared and misunderstood card: but it is not an omen of whats to come, yet so many people would think its presence bad. On the contrary Death is a positive card, it is all about transition and new beginnings. As Maria says,” When the lord closes a door, somewhere he opens a window”.

There is the matter of shuffling to take into consideration, whilst preparing to deal. Advice on the subject encourages a relaxed, meditative state. Breathing in and out, thinking about whatever it is that you’ve been thinking about and wanting to gauge some wisdom on. It may sound silly but i think you need to focus, to allow the energy to flow from you into the cards and be able to gain some kind of understanding. Like I said, there is a certain kind of magic to Tarot, laugh if you like, but I’d like to believe in it.blog3

Layout is a whole different story. There are many, many different ways to do it, and how you spread depends on the subject and what your asking, and also your own personal style. There is no real rule book on this, as experts suggest when you’ve tried a couple out go ahead and try some of your own. Figuring out what makes sense and rings true with what you’re asking, which is going to take some time and practice.

But I have been practicing. Not to brag and say I’m excellent and a natural eerie talent, but I’m practicing, and I have to say I’m really enjoying it. Sometimes a card will just make so much sense and provide some much needed clarity, others will fall with no real significance and confuse the situation even more. It makes me wonder if perhaps my thoughts themselves were confused, and I need to get better at the meditation side of things.

But revelation or no, there’s something kind of special and exhilarating about it; the moment before you turn over a card and you get a little rush, that moment of feeling right on the edge of discovery. Its a wonderful feeling.

So I’m going to keep practicing. I want to gain some confidence in the cards, I want them to know me, and me to know them. Recognition of the different meanings happens slowly; when I draw a card from a previous reading is like seeing a familiar face, I know you- what’s your name again?  But like any bigger picture, it takes the sum of all the parts to derive your meaning. Being able to bring each card together, and look at their relation to one another to truly understand.

Something that will take patience, and diligence and balance. Me being an excitable sometimes rash, most times passionate and stubborn girl this is something I will need to work on. But I didn’t expect this to be easy.

blog4I think Charlie is also quite enjoying the Tarot. She perches on the edge of the action, the occasional paw making a sudden bid into the fray to claim a card. How very witchy poo that I even have the black cat, perhaps that’ll help me get in the zone.

Also on the subject of charlie, as you haven’t had word on her in so long I am sure you are on the edge of your seat for news; she’s starting to get a little fat. In my personal opinion fat cats are better cats so I in no way see this as failure, but am dreading the upcoming vet appointment just a tad. No one wants the guilt of a fat child, just ask the people on the Biggest Looser.