Feb 102015
 
 Posted by on February 10, 2015 travel, travelogue 1 Response »

Today I work up with hives! But I wasn’t sure that it was hives. I thought that it might be rabies. Or even Malaria. Or perhaps even Typhoid. What are the symptoms of Typhoid again? I was worried because I had spots all over me and I spent half the night scratching.  I threw my blankets on the floor because I was convinved it was fleas. Or perhaps bed bugs. And it was cold. Rishikesh isn’t quite warm as yet.

And I looked at my bed and I blamed the 1960s.  It was all the dready people that had been in my scruffy little room before me. It was their fault! And the Beatles. It was their fault too. They didn’t wash enough. Where’s a Modernist when you need one? They wash two times a day, sometimes more. And they floss. The world according to a Modernist is divided into cleanliness, a hierarchy of cleaning products without a Brahman in sight.

In the morning I got out of bed and opened my door overlooking the Ganga and contemplated  upgrading to the ten dollar rooms. No bed bugs in them. But what are bed bugs again? Perhaps it wasn’t bed bugs, perhaps it was hives as the scratching was moving and the bed was long gone.

So I look up ‘hives’ on the internets and all the symptoms match. And it says it is caused by ‘environmental conditions’. I ponder environmental conditions for a moment. This could mean anything. This is India. It is all environmental conditions. It could have been the smokey Sardu I talked to last night, or the cheap thali I had for dinner, or the permanently oily massage, or all those sickly sweet teas I had in Agra that I got from Robbie the friendly chai walla. Or it could have been the cow that sniffed my crotch whilst hunting for decent coffee (still looking) or the sleeper bus/boat I took to get here that promised everything including sleep.

The article I read on hives said remove the underlying conditions and the hives will go away. But where do I start? Perhaps with the British. It is their fault. They took all the cleaning products and left Indian Modernity to fend by itself. Or Nehru, the architect of post colonial India and Pakistan. Diving India info Hindus and Muslims was bound to end in tears and distract people from cleaning my room.

And so I am still scratching (seriously). I have an Indian itch that just won’t go away and the more I scratch it the more it persists. Damn!

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Feb 102015
 
 Posted by on February 10, 2015 travel, travelogue Tagged with: , ,  No Responses »

Budget Travel: London

Independent travel (or backpacking) is undertaken by many thousands of people each year, and for the majority of travellers in Europe and elsewhere, London will possibly be included as a exciting stop-off at some stage (I’ll be there soon!). However, many independent travellers dread the possiblity that London will drain your wallet due to how expensive the city can be, especially if you are unaware of the transport options.

London’s transportation system is vast and extremely efficient, but some modes of transport do come at a hefty cost. The famous London cabs for instance are renowned for being very expensive, especially if you get one into Central London from one of the airports (see the Daily Mail). So, what are the budget transport options when arriving in London?

Use the underground tube!

If you are arriving at London’s main airport, Heathrow, then a simple and inexpensive way to get into town is via the underground tube. Trains go directly to Kings Cross and other stations in Central London and operate throughout the day and night. Tickets are affordable and day tickets allow unlimited travel around London (and here is a map if the underground)
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Get the bus..

Buses are the least expensive form of transport and operate from the airports. They are also a good way to see the London scenery, including the infamous traffic jams (be warned!).

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You can hire a car at the airport

Car hire may be seen as a luxury for independent travel, but is possibly the most cost-effective way to travel across the UK. At Gatwick Airport, at both the north and south terminals, there are valets that will conveniently pick hire cars up for you (see: Parking4Less ).

Common places that are visited near London include Oxford, Cambridge and Brighton, and hire cars are a good way to visit these places or go further afield.
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Feb 022015
 
 Posted by on February 2, 2015 travel, travelogue Tagged with:  No Responses »

I have been away for almost one month and after a few cluttered days in Kolkata, I am now in one of the most intense and colourful cities anywhere in the world; Varanasi on the Ganga. This is my fifth trip to India and my third tine in Varanasi. I first came here circa 1993 and I am now retracing many of the steps I took during that initial life-altering introduction to India (including reading the same hippy-trail books!)

During my first trip to Varanasi I recall running around in the morning desperately searching for a decent coffee that wasn’t instant Nescafe brown Ganga puke. And, yes, I did the same thing yesterday. There are cool looking expresso machines here but many of the cafe owners simply use them to heat the milk or water and then place a spoon of instant coffee in the concoction (thus I have been getting killer headaches from coffee withdrawal…a uniquely Melbourne problem perhaps).
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Some of my greener travel companions have asked how India changed since I was first here some 20 years ago, but I’m not completely sure. It depends on what century you reference (as I ride to the train on a peddle driven rickshaw, book the train ticket on a shiney new Samsung Tablet, and have an intense conversation with a young Bengali on whether the Queen stole the Star of India diamond, whilst watching thousands of muddy people throw idols of the god of learning and knowlege in the Ganga in a religious ferver).

And he past three nights I have been sitting on the pissy-smelling concrete rooftop of the hotel where I have been staying with a charming young architect from Poland calls Tomesz. We can see the misty Ganga with wooden boats beneath us, chanting and chimes as the soundtrack and the menacing sound of the Varanasi roads as base . We have been drinking exactly 3 cans of beer berween us which we got from a secretive establishment about 1 kilometer walk away called “chilled beer”. I am sort of glad that the Indian masses (and I mean masses), haven’t discovered alcohol because it must be easier to land a jumbo at Heathrow than control a vehicle on a Varanasi road.
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The perspectives gained in India are always hard to communicate. Especially to those from counties such as my own that can never be anything other than Modern.

Today I am on a train to Khajuraho to see some temple porn.

Jan 222015
 
 Posted by on January 22, 2015 travel, travelogue Tagged with:  No Responses »

I first started coming to the Island when the Island was cool, or was this when I was cool, not sure, surely there was a time when we both aligned. When the full moon was young I danced on the beach to techno and trance, drank out of buckets, and slept under nets. But not much has changed. Utopia usually only has two dimensions, or maybe three if you endulge the mushroom shake.

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I have now been to the island five times, and I am not sure why I still come, it is always at the beginning of something, never at the end. Ko Phan Ghan is a capitol of 90s Libertarianism, the curse of my generation. Libertarians know how to put on a good party but never how to clean up after it. The collapse of the Berlin Wall persuaded many in the European labouring classes that freedom is a new sort of hedonism as opposed to an old form of Marxism. Or perhaps it is just an old form of youthful rebellion and that it eternal.

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I sat in a restaurant yesterday next to a young man with a celtic tattoo who was complaining that the food was spicy. It made me feel glad that I didn’t have the money to get a celtic tattoo way back at the beginning of the lunar cycle. Its all part of the spice of life I suppose, the faded symbols of rebellion, often against the man that has long left the straw bungalow.

I am not sure if I will come back to the island again, and I have possible said this many times before. It is spectacularly beautiful and sophisticated in its own tesalated Thai tourism sort of way, but it is an island and islands are full-stops, not sentences. People come to islands to escape from things and you only need to escape if you are first in prison.

Kolcutta is next…

Jan 152015
 
 Posted by on January 15, 2015 travel, travelogue Tagged with:  No Responses »

I purposely started my slow journey to South America in Thailand, partly because Thailand is (sort-of) close to Australia and partly because it has always been a relaxed segue to the rest of the world (but for many Utopian seeking libertines, it may be the only destination). I first came to Thailand as a young backpacker in the early 1990s on my way to India, the same path I am retracing now, but I won’t stay long.

Thailand is an easily digestible destination simply because it is inflicted with all the tedious travel narratives of an exotic utopia (and the place is still full of pirates). But, unless you dig deep, there are perhaps not too many experiences and perspectives to be had in Thailand that will really rattle your bones (although I am sure that there are exceptions to the rule). The amount of travellers and tourists that come to Thailand is in the many millions which is sort of ironic because everyone is trying to be so very unique and alternative. It is sort of like Berlin in this respect.

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'Lucky' House

The main backpacker strip in Bangkok is called Koah San Road and in all my experience of 1960s hippy-trail backpacker haunts, nothing comes close. It is enormous, taking up a few blocks of the city; packed with scruffy sartorially challenged 20-something nubiles all year around (and yes, there are so many hideous variety of mens shorts in the world). There is not much to do apart from eat and drink (and satisfy a few other basic human functions) but many of Bangkok’s tourist money-shots are within walking distance. After spending the first three days of my trip eating and drinking, eating and drinking, eating and drinking, I escaped the hedonistic museum and walked the 10 KMS to Chinatown.

And Chinatown in Bangkok is wonderful. There is a main strip full of pirates gold (jewelries) with lots of small alley-ways branching off, packed with treasures from all the workshops of Asia. There are literally thousands of small specialty shops bloated with stuff that would take many hours to fully ponder the reason for being. This is especially the case in the food section; so many varieties of fish, fruit, vegetables, and meat, all canned and curated in a myriad of different ways.

When I was walking home to my dank little cell room in Lucky House in Koah San Road, I stumbled upon the gun district of Bangkok. I was especially taken by the lightweight Colt Defender handgun. It wasn’t exactly cheap, but legal to buy and it would fit easily into my backpack. It would have made the process of dealing with the touts in India much easier, but it only came in brushed silver and didn’t match my shorts at the time.

I am now on an Island in the South of Thailand. It took 18 hours to get here, including a long journey on a spew-boat. And it is raining. I want my narrative back.

Jan 062015
 
 Posted by on January 6, 2015 travel Tagged with: ,  No Responses »
Annapurna_Massif_Panorama

View of Annapurna massif near Manang, on the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal

There are (hopefully) number of good reasons to take a extended sabbatical or ‘gap year’, perhaps not just once, but during key junctures in your life. Gap years are usually about the process of coming of age, of getting out-there and experiencing the world before starting University or a career. They help individuals develop self-sufficiency, independence, decision-making and maturity.  Plus you get to see a good chunk of the world which is probably good for everyone as it helps build undertakings between individuals and cultures.

But there are also good arguments for taking ‘gap years’ at other periods of your life.  A gap year or ‘sabbatical’ can be a means of ‘book-ending` certain chapters of your life; of taking some time to develop new perspectives on what has passed and what is yet to come.  There is a skill that is often lost in the day-to-day demands of mouse-wheel Modernity and this is the ability to contextualise and navigate oneself within the great mountains and valleys of life.  Context appeards to be the great deficit of the emerging information economy and unfortunately, reductiveness, superficiality and banality are moving at frightening speed. A year isn’t such a long time in the great scheme of things, and hopefully through doing something different for a year, new insights, choices, creativity, and abilities will emerge.   At least this is what I tell myself!

1. Time is your most valuable asset

There is a parochialism that has enveloped day-to-day  life, but this parochialism isn’t geographical, but temporal. It is the ”parochialism of the present”. Millions of people are now trapped in the loud and raucous NOW, primarily driven by the hysterical and trivial demands of cheap communication devices (I am making an incursion here).  This NOW can stretch for many years, until one day you may realise that every day looks the same as the past day and the view may from the hill up the road was possibly better. In other words, significance is contextual and layered and the Modern world has many iron cages of insignificance (and some of them digital).

A sabbatical is time to do new things, to clearly re-think your goals and aspirations, and these don’t just come to you in the form of a lazy text message, you have to look for them.

2. Do a project that you have always wanted to do

Independent long-term travel is one option for a sabbatical year, but there are, of course,  many others (as travel may not be for everyone).  There is volunteer or paid work in various parts of the world where one can learn new skills and develop new perspectives. But it is important to plan sometime in advance and be flexible enough to let the plan or project develop along the way.  The project might be writing a book, learning a sport, or building a tree-house.  Depending on what you plan to do, taking a sabbatical year is a fairly demanding endeavor as it may take up to a year to organise (and tie-up the mouse wheel), a year to actually do it, and then a year to readjust when you come back (and I haven’t figured out the last bit yet, but maybe this is the whole point!).

There are options available to take time of work (unpaid leave) and return to the same job, but I not sure this is a good idea (unless of course, you own your own business or work for your self in some capacity in which you have to ability to take your hard-earned perspectives and use them to shape you immediate surroundings). It may be a better idea to start something new when you return based on what you have learned.

3. Travel now, it is better than later

Travel is all about engaging the ‘big picture” and given my understanding of the past century, I don’t think that the present geo-political and economic arrangements will last.  Even if you didn’t study it at university or school, history didn’t end.  History isn’t politically correct, it’s not about shopping, it isn’t black and white, and it is bigger than you.  The world is fairly peaceful and we are in a golden age of air travel and now has never been a better time to see the world (as it may not be possible in 10-20 years time).  When I first started travelling in the early 1990s, huge parts of the world were inaccessible due to divergent political ideologies, economic expense, or lack of infrastructure for travelers (like hotels and roads!).  The 21st Century may not be that different to the 20th, at least in terms of the great ebbs and flows of humanity occasional fracturing into misunderstanding and conflict.  There are already signs of this occurring and history has never unraveled in a polite and orderly manner.  The most important ingredient for independent travel is peace and hopefully through building bridges with other cultures, you aid in this process in a small but meaningful way.

4. Friendship

Accordingly, perhaps the most satisfying thing about traveling is meeting new people, some of whom may become life-long friends. Sure, you may not see them that often, but still, there is a wonderful travel-narrative there with a few sparks to light it. It is the connections between people that is the most important.

Dec 102014
 
 Posted by on December 10, 2014 gadfly, history, travel Tagged with: , , , ,  No Responses »

An everyday discipline that I have had for the past 27 years (ouch) is keeping a daily ”travel diary”. I started this arduous task way-back in 1988 during Australia’s bi-centenary year. This first diary was a Christmas gift from my sister and was embellished with pictures of koalas, kangaroos, gum-nuts, and celebratory bi-centenary images of Governor Phillip triumphantly raising flags at Sydney Cove. Through my first diary, I started describing nights out on the booze, difficult friendships, and grand aspirations of seeing the world.

2014-12-07 20.57.50And the next year I had embarked on a voyage to conquer new lands. This was my first time out of Australia and like many Australians of the period, I thought it would be the only time!

When I triumphantly returned from a year in Europe and the US, I enrolled in a humanities degree at La Trobe University in Melbourne. And this is when all the trouble began.  The diaries became another journey; the rich world of the humanities is both an internal and external journey.

Although I have never re-read my diaries, I do recall that during my early years of education they were rambling monsters with all sorts of treatises and manifestos, jaded letters, and tortured-observations, stapled to every other page. What a wonderful time that was!

Then came are all those years of travel; of long summers in Asia, of study and road trips in the US, of good times in Kreuzberg in Berlin and late night drunken visits to chicken shops in Dalston in London. There was Hanoi, Mumbai and Ko Phan Ghan, Kathmandu, Vientiane, Hampi, Harlem, and Hoi Ann. And  all those damn universities; UNSW, RMIT, Melbourne, King’s, Virginia, VU, and UCSC, each with their own idiosyncratic  style and ways to engage (or not engage) with the world.

But over the past few years, the diaries have been fairly pedestrian (take this as a sign), in terms of setting practical goals and writing about day-to-day administrative shite. And they started to take up a lot of room, in more ways than one, thus it is time to move towards a minimalist future.

2014-12-07 21.01.23I see the process of diary writing as similar to physical work-out, it is a workout for the soul and just as it is possible to notice those who have never been to a gym (sorry about that), you may also notice those who have never kept a diary (nor traveled in their youth). They may look good on the outside but have few healthy perspectives developed from the inside.

Anyhow, after much deliberation, I decided to burn the f**kers; to set the diaries on fire and destroy that journey; to start at ”year zero”  just like New Zealand with a new flag!  Now I can be historically pure and arrive anywhere from nowhere like a contextually-challenging snake on a plane (there are no snakes in New Zealand).

But being an historian (and a digital one) I just could not do it (well, not completely). So I painstakingly digitised all the diaries before I burnt them (it took many weeks and now my arm hurts). They were scanned and photographed (according to one of the many standards) and are now safely encrypted and stored on a cloud drive protected by an inactive account manager. So, if I don’t reply to the ‘are you still alive’ email sent by this particular service every six months, they will never see the light of day. This makes me very happy!

So, I won’t keep a daily-diary any longer (at least, not in this form). That work is now done and the fruits of that labour will forever carry me on my travels. Burn!