From where I’m sitting, northern India is about ten million times more interesting, entertaining, mind-blowing, and electrifying than is Kerala. There’s just nothing to match the all-out cultural and sensorial onslaught of the north, and certainly none of the larger-than-life/beggar-the-imagination achievements as can be seen in the ghats at Varanasi, or the Taj Mahal, or the huge forts in Jaisalmer and Jodhpur, or the Golden Temple in Amritsar, or the tremendously beautiful man-made lakes in Udaipur, or the incredible colonial architecture in Delhi and Mumbai along with the sensational museums in the former.
The south, of course, is not supposed to be about the Gilliamesque spectacle that reigns in the north; it’s supposed to be the rustic, laid-back, rural side of India — the natural wonders, rather than the man-made. They call Kerala “God’s Own Country” — they being the locals, whom one can be assured will repeat that mantra within about fifteen seconds of having made an acquaintance (and just in case it had been forgotten, the same is printed everywhere on signs as well). Fifteen seconds later, they’ll not-so-humbly wonder your opinion of their humble abode.
Well, guess what? It’s every bit as polluted as in the north. It’s every bit as hectic and harried. It’s every bit as pedestrian-unfriendly — in fact, even more so. The quality of the local fruit is much better in the north. The stench of burning plastic is every bit as acrid here, and every bit as frequently smelt. While people are friendly and welcoming here, they’re much more so in the north (though I suspect this may be because English is more widely spoken in the north). Yes, it’s less crowded than in the north — but there, the massive crowds are of fellow-pedestrians, so even if you bump into one or a hundred, you’re not going to end up flattened like a pancake as you will if you take your eye off the ball here in the sidewalk-less streets of the south.
Are the ocean and the sunsets beautiful? Yes — magical even; they’re in the end what makes Kerala bearable. But there are a lot of places whose beaches and sunsets are every bit as ace as Kerala’s — indeed, nearby Sri Lanka’s give Kerala’s a right royal thumping, I’d wager. Are the backwaters beautiful? Yes, they clearly once were — but now they’re very dirty and oily and filled up with plastic, and often smelling like…well, frankly, smelling like what all y’all yahoos are always accusing Durian of smelling like. Even where it’s possible to for example find a stretch of unpolluted backwater, you’re still going to be within earshot of the noisy traffic roaring through on the road behind you. (This is not 100% always the case — but it’s very close to.)
They make a big show of being stung by such heretical remarks when delivered — but, I say, who goes fishing for compliments ought not complain when reeling in an untoward opinion.
But if I love the north so much more, why didn’t I just pay a visit to the friendly railway booking office and clickety-clack my dimpled ass back up to Varanasi, you may wondering? Well, it’s because it was the hottest season of the year, and the north, without the moderating oceanic influence, was in even more heat- and humid-stifling straits than the south.
So, c’est la vie. Hanging out at the beach, eating mediocre fruit, and answering the same five questions from friendly locals over and over again still beats workin’, I daresay…
Here be the digest. All my photos from Kerala can be learnt just here.
All you schmaltzy motherfuckers can feel free to commence wetting your britches and cowering behind the ottoman right now, ’cause it’s not just the goddam Superbike no more — it’s the goddam Super Superbike. You motherfuckers.
India is just a royal pain in the ass, as I’ve written many words about before. And plus, it’s so hot and humid here right now that everybody, including your humble narrator, just wants to be put out of his/her/its misery. And plus, the Mangos are pretty crap so far. They’re not as worse as in Sri Lanka last year…but they’re pretty crap nevertheless. The locals say it’s on account of climate change — their favourite topic nowadays — and who dares deny it?
A guy told me that a few days before I arrived, a big wind came up and eighty-sixed about five dozen trees just in the Fort Kochi area alone — and with them the electricity for two days’ time. You can see them cut up and left in piles blocking the sidewalks all around town. A warning from Mother Earth, he reckoned; and of course he was right. The warning has gone unheeded, alas, as everything has returned back to normal, as though it had never happened.
We ignore her warnings at our very great peril, I do strongly believe — but through it all, every day in India brings a sight so stupefying you’ll never even know up from down again. Five minutes after snapping these astonishing pics, I just happened to walk past one of the last theatres in existence giving nightly performances of a traditional theatrical style (Kathakalli) unable to draw audiences any more. “Okey, I’ll give it a look.”
And do you know, the performance was so powerful and so beautiful and so dramatic that it as thoroughly imprinted itself onto my being as just about anything ever has done. Walloped upside the skull yet again — and this time practically for keeps.
TRIPLE SIX-SIX-SIX!!!!! The greatest bus ticket ever issued — and I quite like the interior as well; more like a Sri Lankan bus, what with the blinking lights (occluded in the picture) and the bumping dance music. Southern Indians seem much more dour than their northern cousins: Friendly, to be sure — but not so exuberant. On this bus, at least, is a chance to let their hair down a little.
The conductor was pretty cool, too. When it was time to depart from the originating station, he hurried some kids onto the coach, pulled the door closed with the rope to which it was attached, then looked out to see if any more kids were coming. Noting that there were, he stepped back, kicked the door open, and hurried these kids on as well. Over and over again, the same routine; must’ve been a good four or five iterations. Why didn’t he just wait until all the kids had got on? Don’t know — I think he just liked kicking the door open. He was quite spry for a man of his heft.
Unfortunately, I need to remove my dimpled ass from Varkala after only one night — despite its extreme beauty and (relatively) laid-back vibe — on account of the air quality is very, very poor. Everybody’s burning palm fronds, or something. Don’t know whether this is a seasonal thing, or goes on all year ’round; but it ain’t float my boat. It’s funny, every-other building is for Ayurvedic this-and-that, or eco-healing, or whatever. And I’m like: “Hey! McFly! Didn’t you know that the single most important component of healthful living is fresh air?” Sheesh.
Know what fuckin’ time it is right now? It’s fucking BODY SURFING O’CLOCK (is what fuckin’ time it is right now). The sea is so lovely here, and the sunsets so over-thee-top, it’s honestly very much like a religious experience being in the water during them. (Although that’s also why no pics to-date of the really fireworks…)
Kovalam hijinks. Unfortunately, this place stinks, too — there’s a gasoline smell all the way along the shoreline. Sometimes stronger, sometimes weaker, but more less always present. It’s the curse of Kerala, apparently: The beaches are enthralling to behold, but you’d best not breathe through your nose…
Are you freakin’ hallucinating my dimpled ass, or WHAT? Another mind-wrecking day down by the seashore — this time courtesy the unsanely dramatic wave-action and inestimably beautiful sceneries here at Azhimhala Beach, a few miles south of Kovalam. A sonofabitch could find hisself addicted to these Keralan beaches, ain’t it?
You wouldn’t think it from the pix and viddies, surely, but this experience was the closest I’ve come to openly weeping at the natural beauty of a place since…well, probably since the first time I laid eyes on the Ganges from the ghats at Varanasi, doggone three-and-a-half years flown by now.
India, man. It makes you scratch and claw + beg, borrow, and plead for each/every tiniest morsel. But when the payoff hits your soul like a ton of, you know, there’s just no other place like it.
’tis indeed a pity I’m such a fuckwit as a camermang, ’cause this place…visiting this place is about the closest I’ve come to having an out-of-body experience. Objectively, I wouldn’t even say that it’s as eye-popping as e.g. the Tip Of Borneo area; but, there’s some kind of force here, just pulls your dimpled ass IN. You know what I’m saying?
Clickety-clacking my way back up north. Had intended to visit Kanyakumari — the southernmost point of India — just to say I’d done it; but all the accommodations were either expensive or suffered poor ratings. I note, however, that the longest train route on the subcontinent originates/terminates there — three-and-a-half days, and a passage in Sleeper class is like fifteen bucks! Question is, though, how to provision oneself with fruit, considering the longest halt is only twenty minutes’ time (in the north, there were always multiple fruit stands right near the railway stations, but I’ve not found that to be true down here)? Could I arrange an airdrop en route? Not this trip — but one of these days I’m going to do that shit…
Hey, party people (yes, that means you). I filmed my first “video vlog” — stop and have a look-see, won’t you? If it made your buttcheeks tremble, you can feel free to press the “Subscribe it!” button (or press “You fucker!” if it didn’t…)!
Two tours through India, and I still have no idea how the fuck cricket works. (Although I did return a batted ball to some kids whom had been too lazy to climb the cyclone fence over which it’d flown, having instead waited for the first passerby to hook them up…)
Have all but given up on the Mangos here. A guy told me there are good ones grown in Karnataka — which, actually, I can believe, recalling the VERY great quality of the Watermelons and Bananas I was getting up there three years ago. But I’m loathe to venture inland, where it’s even more hotter than here on the coast (and the cooling monsoon ain’t arrive there for at least a few more weeks yet). So, the great, big Indian Mango Adventure was a great, big fail. But with sunsets like these-all, it’d be criminal to complain, I think. You know, it’s funny: I basically hate everything about Kerala except the beaches, the sunsets, and the Kathakalli — but I love each of those so much that I kind of can’t wait to come back…
Goddam Ubud is a motorcycle hellhole like almost none I’ve ever experienced. It’s made all the worse because so many tourists get in on the act, too, and they don’t know their dimpled ass from a hole in the ground. In addition to which, the Coconuts, while plentiful, are expensive and sub-par. So (you can imagine), I was all prepared to compose an outraged torrent of unvarnished vituperative hostility calling total bullshit on Ubud and all it stands for.
But then all of the suddenly, I started meeting all sorts of very cool people (I wasn’t even trying to — I was trying to be fuckin’ righteously indignant). And then I noticed they’ve got bins all over town for compostable material (!). And then I saw these boys playing soccer right in the middle of yon mudpuddle. And I acknowledged that the city’s reputation as a centre of artistic achievement seems merited. And I note, studying the map, that there appear to be some nature trails to escape the bullcrap by.
And, anyhow, I’ve already scheduled an assignation here, so, no choice but to make the best of it. We’ll give it the old college try, I dare say…
Ubud second verse same as the first: There are many many supercool places to see around here, but walking through town to arrive at the locations is a most horrific experience. Tip: Bring musik with you when you go walking — loud musik at that!
Fuckin’ Bunuelesque goings-on here in Ubud to-day.
To set the stage a little bit, it’s kind of impossible to find sweet Coconuts here — except for one bro’, “Gusti” by name, whom has a little shack up in the rice fields, and climbs the trees himself to get the harvest. “Seattle Supersonics!” he cried when learning of my provenance, endearing me greatly to him. His are mighty great, but otherwise…it’s not a Coco Mecca, to say the least.
Nevertheless, one has to keep trying, right? When I this very same morning asked a local shopkeep if hers were sweet, she pointed to the tree under which we were standing, and informed me that those ones were. She bade her husband harvest one for me, and they got out a ladder and (rather warily) up he went.
Thinking it a neat scene, I snapped the enclosed photo, but when I looked down to fiddle with the settings and get another shot, the husband lost control of the task at hand, one Coconut bouncing off the ground and smacking me in the balls. When I bent over to see what was going on, another smacked me in the back of the head. A third one rolled into the sewer. And then — I shit you not — a bunny rabbit hopped out from under some bushes. The first bunny rabbit I’ve even seen here, in point of fact.
Though apologetic, the husband and wife couldn’t stop laughing. There was a customer sitting smoking a cigarette watching it all unfold as well, but he took it in stride. Lucky thing it was a dwarf tree and they were the half-pint Cocos you see, otherwise I’d be in a bad way right now!
In (hopefully) unrelated news, the owner of the hostel says that voodoo and black magick are practiced here on the island.
North Bali Durian Retreat day two. In the jungle, with the beatific shaman: We ain’t drink Ayahuasca, but we did get our dimpled asses baptised in the sacred spring. That’s gotta count for something, I dare say…
North Bali Durian Retreat day three. Epically gorgeous jungle hike toward yon epically bodacious waterfall. This weeklong retreat was rather outside my budget range…but it’s utterly impossible to put a pricetag on experiences like these. My advice to you: Sign up early and often for next year’s powwow.
There’s this thing that I do when hiking in Nepal, where I find my dimpled ass in such complete disbelief that it’s seeing what it’s seeing, that I simply throw up my arms in bewildered wonderment. This-here hike is, I believe, the only place outside of Nepal that I have acted in a likewise manner (albeit here I done it once, while in Nepal I do it four or five times a day). In other words, please take into account that the real live experience was about…I dunno, 5,037% more eye-popping that the photos would suggest.
North Bali Durian Retreat day four. Market-hopping followed by another venture into waterfallland. I have no words to describe — nor camera skillz to convey — what we have experienced on this day.
But if you want to know what it is to be truly alive on Planet Bali, cast your lot with Justyna and Simon. They said they would make our dimpled asses work for it, and this they have done. But the rewards have been beyond the threshold.
Another powerfully emotional day in what is turning out to be one of the most satisfying weeks of my life.
North Bali Durian Retreat, days five and six. We got in most of the important ings: Snorkeling, Haggling, Waterfalling, Cliff Jumping, Purchasing 36kgs of Dragonfruits during a GARGANTUAN rainstorm, Jamuing (a traditional Balinese drink made from fresh Turmeric, Ginger, and Coconut water — tastes like Tang, but with a bitter kick), Devouring twenty-five freshly foraged Durians in about fifteen minutes flat. The usual crazy North Bali mayhem, in other words. (Note that my dimpled ass did not participate in any of the cliff jumping “activities”, nor will it ever. And note too that my camera did not participate in any of the underwater scenarios, unfortunately.)
After the week’s nonstop adventures, we’re completely zapped — and completely transformed. It’s a good place to be, in both senses. Plugging back in to city life is not going to be easy, to say the least; but I wouldn’t trade this week for love nor money.
“If you win the rat race / If you come in first place / Then a rat is all you’ll be”
North Bali Durian Retreat, day seven. They weaned us from the teat to-day; kicked our dimpled asses out of thee nest, and vanished without a trace — gone to work their magic in a nebulous place called Fakfak, Papua, Indonesia. And what shall become of us, six wayward ducklings we, left to fend for ourselves on the mean streets of Ubud — the beautiful Eden dream shattered and become horrific waking nightmare? Only time will tell, of course. But, god damn it all, we seen The Light, if only for a week’s time. We really, really did.
Two-and-a-half months in the Malay world — Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore, Sarawak, and Sabah. Had intended to stop off in Brunei for a few days as well, but, ultimately, couldn’t justify the exorbitant prices for accomodation.
All my photos from Singapore can be learnt here, whilst all my ones from Borneo can be learnt here. Heartily do I recommend these places. Heartily, I say!
Well, now that it’s possible to use one card for all the different transit options; and now that I’ve found (after much searching) a hostel to replace my beloved/departed Cosmopolitan (it’s not in the same ZIP code in terms of meeting interesting people, and it’s more expensive, but in some ways it’s better — best of all, it’s about forty paces from a Coconut man who’s always got good quality stuff); and now that I’ve found a place within walking distance to get a bus to/from Penang (the city very stupidly built a miles-from-anywhere replacement for the old, conveniently located main terminal, and the new train service is $20 for the four-hour passage); and now that I keep finding new places to get reasonably priced good-quality Watermelons…I guess I can say that I don’t totally despise KL anymore. It used to be that every time I visited, it had gotten more infuriating; but now is the first time it’s actually gotten less infuriating. Cool enough.
First time visitng Singapore, and I didn’t even make it through Passport Control before having my dimpled ass hauled in. After thee scanning machine got jiggy with my backpack, I was carted off to the Customs interrogation office, and, eventually, defrocked of my status as a switchblade (AKA “folding knife” AKA “flip knife”) owner.
After about twenty minutes’ waiting, I was informed by one of the three clerks handling the case that this type of knife is not allowed in Singapore. “Will you hold it for me, so I can retrieve it when I leave the country?” I wondered. He took my question to mean that would it be okay for me to leave the office now and be on my way?, and laughingly estimated that “the process” — which consisted, on their part, of filling in and stapling together form after form after form of paperwork (sheesh, couldn’t they just have saved us all a bunch of pain in the arse, done a goddam retina scan, and known my whole entire history tout de suite?) — would take about an hour. I didn’t know whether that meant an hour from then, or an hour from when I’d been apprehended, but figured that either way it would be a tricky situation getting back onto my bus — if it weren’t there waiting…well, that’s self-explanatory; but even if it were still waiting, that would mean all the other riders of that bus would be royally pissed off at me, and pelting me with broken bottles and used barfbags and some stuff.
“In case the bus has already left, come back here, and I will find you another one,” he reassured me. But when I offered what I thought was a helpful suggestion, viz., to contact the bus bay and let them know of my whereabouts and whyfors, he brushed off said suggestion like as it was the tiniest fleck of dust in all the known Universe. When I asked what would become of the knife, I was told that it would eventually be “destroyed”. Noting the look of surprise on my face, the clerk shrugged his shoulders and lamented, “What else could we do with it?” My helpful suggestion that at least they could sell it in Malaysia and make a little bit of money was met with the same disregard as had been my first helpful suggestion.
But despite they didn’t care, none of them, for my helpful suggestions; and despite I had to show two different people how to open the knife (and one of them had to show a third); and despite I was asked the same three questions — Where did you purchase the knife? (KL); How much did it cost? (30RM); What did you use it for? (Opening fruit) — by five different individuals; and despite the whole “process” actually took about two hours; and despite my knife (which, by dint of having survived intact a change-of-management housecleaning bid at the KL hostel in which I had left it for safe-keeping whilst I was in Nepal, had gained some amount of sentimental value to me) is now slated for destruction…it really wasn’t so bad a time, mostly on account of the staff were all very friendly and easygoing (even downright affable, some of them).
Friendliest of all was the Malayan (as opposed to Malaysian, note) chauffer appointed to ferry me to-and-fro’ the Customs office and the Police Force office — about a five-minute walk — several times as it turned out on account of the former had failed to fill in some of the forms to the latter’s satisfaction. “They’re very particular,” the chaperone duly informed me as we departed the office.
She had married a cracker from the United States and subsequently lived in Houston for twelve years; but once their marriage busted up, she high-tailed it back here to SG. So, anyhow, she was rather keen to hold forth in re livin’ in the USA. She also, once I’d broached the subject, let on that Durian is her favourite, too; and sat and kept me company at the two offices’ waiting areas — which was welcome and all, although she did ask a couple of pretty odd questions. Firstly, she wanted to know when I would be coming back to Singapore; and I was like, let’s see if I’m even allowed in the first time before I begin making plans for the second. Next, she wanted to know whether I liked Singapore; my answer, as honest as I could make it, amounted to, “So far, it’s nothing too special…”
Before being permitted to ever see my goddam passport again, I was required to sign my name, in six or seven different places down the page, to a form setting down the aforementioned whereabouts and whyfors of the aforementioned SNAFU and authorising the aforementioned Police Force to undertake the aforementioned destruction of the aforementioned contraband item of aforementioned sentimental value. True to his aforementioned word, the affable Customs clerk seconded me, free-of-charge, to a Golden-Mile-bound coach about ready for takeoff, and my eleven-hour passage (as per the schedule) soon concluded some seventeen hours after it had begun (thanks also to the ineluctable Malaysian bus operator delays along with an amount of ungodly traffic on the Causeway)…but not before the clerk took it upon himself to make me good and aware that, “It is very, very rare for a white man to enjoy eating Durian.” I tried explaining him that it’s not so uncommon as local peninsular mythology would have one believe, but he wouldn’t hear of it; instead repeating at least three or four times, “It is very, very rare for a white man to enjoy eating Durian.”
Singapore itself is a kind of nirvana for barefooters, I am able to report: The sidewalks being as they are broad, tree-lined, numerous as, and wholly free from obstructions. Moreover, there appear to be more parks and beaches here than can shake a stick at. Also, the totally awesome vices — gambling, prostitution, et al. — are legal, while the totally idiotic and nuisance-causing vices — motorcycling on the sidewalk, smoking at the bus stop, et al. — are all illegal.
What’s not to love?? Well, after my little dust-up back at the frontier, and considering the country’s authoritarian reputation, I’m now afeared to jaywalk here (gotta admit, it’s kind of a small price to pay for the thrill of doing jalan jalan in what’s got to be the most pedestrian-friendly city in all of Asia). Worse, it’s about twice as expensive as any place I’ve been in Asia; while the two Coconuts I tried to drink were the furthest thing from the sweet/fizzy melange of awesome that slakes those hot/humid blues like nothing else possibly can be able to do. And though there’s a Durian stall about every block or two, I’ve yet to spy even one single biji approaching what I’d call “decent quality”.
Oh, spitting. I don’t know about spitting here. Spitting is, of course, the most awesomest vice in the known Universe, but I don’t think I’ve seen anybody doing it here; making me think it might be illegal. So, we’ll see. We shall in all likelihood certainly see…
Do you like leaves and/or trees? Then, what are ye waiting for? Bring your dimpled ass to Singapore already!
In re the pictured gazebo and its accompanying description, it took me a good three or four minutes’ time after having snapped the photo — puzzled and amused, and wondering, “But where’s the Gardens’ least conic architectural and ornamental feature?” — before realising that the sign is supposed to read iconic. I’m a little slow on the uptake sometimes…
Plus ça change — even in nineteen and eight (as seen here in rule #6), the sharing with neighbours of cultural ephemera procured with one’s own funds was considered, by the money-men, to be offensive behaviour — plus c’ est la même chose, ain’t it?
Well it seemed pretty incongruous for the city planners to have invited an Ecuadorian ensemble to Singapore to perform the big Christmas night concert, but, anyway, it was certainly a rousing set. And, after all, they did mix in rather spectacular, salsafied renditions of both “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” and “Feliz Navidad”…
Jaywalking: Early and often. Oh, I did wait a day or two before my initial foray; but after that, it was all systems go. Zero police whistles heard.
Spitting: Early and often. Not on the sidewalks, to be sure — but then, I never spit on sidewalks anyhow. Zero police whistles heard.
Pissing in the bushes: I only did it once, as public restrooms abound. Nevertheless, zero police whistles heard.
In all, I think Singapore’s reputation as the nanny-state non plus ultra is rather undeserved. Is it clean? Yes, very — but that’s because it’s very wealthy (is my guess), and can afford to spend lots of energy relocating all the discarded plastic out of sight. But it’s not like the fuzz are standing on every corner with truncheons drawn, or nothin’.
Fuckin’ KL Durian pigout got thee year started right. All-you-can-eat Durian is never as good as you think it’s going to be; but this one was pretty decent, and the staff were very friendly. Can’t complain.
Checked in to my guest house here, met up with my bro’ Lauri Ilves, began digging in to the mountain Durians he’d procured from a local stall, thought of my bro’ Mads Tobias Gisle Johnsen’s mad feat of consuming only Durian flesh and Coco water for six weeks straight (which he pulled off in ought-fourteen), and made a note to myself that perhaps this could be the place to try to duplicate said feat. I mean, that’s some fucking good Durian right now! Somebody remind me again why it took me so long to finally touch down here?
First time eating Dabai, one of the famous Borneo jungle fruits. It’s about 80% seed, tastes like Cheez Whiz, and doesn’t digest so well. In other words, totally addictive! You soak them in warm water to soften them up enough for mastication.
But Durian is the star of the show here — they’re selling them just about everywhere you look, and while there are plenty of shit ones for sale, we’re able easily to find some extremely great ones at very reasonable prices.
People say Kuching is reminiscent of Penang, but to me it feels more like Chanthaburi — except that instead of rabbits, here they’re obsessed with cats.
Spoilt for choice at Kuching’s weekend market. You want it? It’s here…
The Durians are better in other parts of town, and the Watermelon I et was just decent. But…
Dragonfruit ~ best I’ve ever eaten.
Papaya ~ best I’ve ever eaten.
Soursop ~ FAR the best I’ve eaten since Hawaii (which is seven years ago now).
Rollinia ~ First I’ve even seen since Hawaii, and almost as good. The Rollinias win best in show for me: Pine Cone Pudding for the fucking WIN, ain’t it?
Didn’t even get around to trying the Sapodillas, Bananas, Citrus, Cempedaks, or Marangs yet. As far as jungle fruits go, along with the previously noted Dabai, there’s one that’s tangy/bitter with an aftertaste of Marinara sauce (pictured directly above), and one that looks kinda like a mushroom thing and tastes like Avocado (pictured directly below).
Also, the vendors and fellow-market-goers are incredibly friendly, warm, good-humoured, and welcoming; and there’s a big dining area with handwashing sinks aplenty — along with, for thee entertainments, easily the lousiest karaoke practitioners you will EVER hear. Plus, best of all: No motorcycles or cars in the aisles! Come on and check it out, why don’t you.
Very appreciative hat-tipping thanks, as always, for the intrepid legwork of Ms. Lindsay Gasik (the owner of my hostel said he’d never heard of a white person knowing of the existence of MJC Market before, and was flabbergasted when I reported to him that we’d met two other Americans there as well; causing him to surmise that, “Maybe there is something to this Durian blogger…”).
Oh, hai, I’ll have one of those, one of those, one of those…oh! and one of those.
A group of three very friendly retired Sarawakians (okay, true, Sarawakians are all very friendly) buying from the same vendor as me and with nothing better to do — their words — offered me a ride back into town. On the way, I asked them whether they recommended my visiting Brunei. They all immediately and vehemently reacted to the negative. After a pause, the lady explained their reasoning: “No beer!” (It’s illegal in the Sultanate.) Later, I walked past an Australian dribbling a basketball along the Esplanade, whose greeting took the form of the words, “Hey, buddy, how are you?” I’ve just never been sure how I feel about being called “buddy”.
Crazy days in Kuching. Every time we show up at MJC market, it starts raining cats and dogs. But the Durians here seem to be the best quality and cheapest prices of all the different markets around the city. Kuching Durians — okey, they aren’t in quite the same ballpark as Penang’s, but they’re fucking good, mang. Moreover, it’s just about impossible to overstate how friendly and engaging the people are here. In fact, the population appears to have been overtaken by a general giddiness at the sight of these two white idjits mowing through quantities of Durian all over town.
Besides, when our driver arrived to take us back to the riverfront (we wanted to see how easy it would be to hitch a ride, but it was already dark and still raining by the time we were ready to leave), he was jamming out the first Rage Against The Machine album from his car stereo’s speaker system. Yeah, we livin’ it large here on Sarawakian shores…
Fuckin’ GREAT entertainment at thee Food Court to-day. The guitarist impressed muchly with his Malaysian Surf stylings, while the five or six singers through whom the band cycled (including a coupla ladies with gorgeously soaring vocals) held their own as well. This-here gent near to stole the show, channeling Klaus Meine like nobody I’ve ever heard. I’m still royally bemused by Southeast Asians’ unquenchable Scorpions infatuation — but one’d certainly never hear yours truly complaining about it!
Like moths to thee flame arrived Kuchingers to the nightly feeding frenzy at eMart’s Matanga branch. Wasn’t too impressed with the quality, frankly — but lo and be-fucking-hold, just as we was fixing to beat feet back here to downtown, we finally done and got our grubby mitts on a reasonably priced cache of the ever-elusive Graveolens Durian. Cutest goddam sight you ever did see, but we couldn’t reach no goddarn consensus in re what they ever even tasted like: I said Jakfruit, Lauri thought cheese, and Chris was all about fricken Hazelnuts.
Ben LaSalle and Merry-Ellen flew back to fuckin’ Humboldt while Lauri Ilves and Chris Hind moved on to motherfuckin’ Sibu. Jordan’s still here, but he fuckin’ couldn’t care less about fruit. So that left me to eat up all the fuckin’ Durians in town (maybe leave a few for the motherfuckin’ locals).
I started by schlepping my dimpled ass up to fuckin’ Third Mile and there found a most pungent specimen being proffered by a fuckin’ Chinaman whom really could’ve passed for a goddam fuckin’ Japanesian. When I pointed out to him the two wormholes near the bottom of, he bade me select another fuckin’ fruit but I was pleasantly fuckin’ surprised to find him amenable to my counter-offer to purchase the very same motherfuckin’ fruit for fuckin’ ten Ringgits rather that the fifteen he’d fuckin’ quoted. A pretty fuckin’ good tradeoff for the both of us, I thunk: The parts that were good were really fuckin’ good, while the parts that the motherfuckin’ worms had got to were not so really fuckin’ good.
I went back to his motherfuckin’ stall to inquire about possibly purchasing another motherfuckin’ Durian, but that friendly motherfucker fuckin’ gave me one for free in-fucking-stead! God damn it, motherfuckin’ Sarawakians are thee best!!
Walking back into town, a old man stopped me and demanded to know my fuckin’ country of origin and, once divulged, my motherfuckin’ opinion about Donald fuckin’ Trump. He prognosticated that like Bush I, but unlike Bush Jr., Trump would fuckin’ be unseated on motherfuckin’ re-election day. He then asked whether I agreed with his motherfuckin’ prognostication, but didn’t wait for my goddam motherfucking reply; fuckin’ electing (har har) to steer the conversation in other fuckin’ directions instead. When it started to fuckin’ rain, he opened up his motherfuckin’ umbrella and indicated to me that I ought to do the same goddam fucking thing to my motherfuckin’ umbrella. As he was taking my leave, he shouted over his shoulder, “One-term President!” making me laugh out fucking loud, but then it turned out that Lauri hadn’t moved on to fuckin’ Sibu after all. Weird.
Ha ha ha ha — Lauri Ilves decepted this naughty motherfucker with a hollowed-out Papaya, giving him time to stash thee unused ones safely away inside his rucksack. Turns out, those thievin’ sons of bitches ain’t quite as wily as advertised!
Mother Nature will fuck…your dimpled ass…UP (in a good way), ain’t it? Funny thing is, though I received plenty of mosquito bites down at the (Bako National) park HQ area, I recorded nary a one out on the trails…
The tide went out earlier than expected this morning, so we were stranded at the park for several hours ’til it returned — enough time to hie our dimpled asses all up into a few more hikes. The last of which emerged, in point of fact, as my favourite of them all; so praise be to the Tide Gods, god dammit!
Last day in Kuching; I et/drunk: A great Coconut, a great Papaya, a great Rollinia, and…thee showstopping finale of my fortnight hereabouts — Durian In Black, fresh from the Borneo Highlands. O la la, that’s some quality degustation! While I can’t say that I grok Kuching quiiiite as readily as I do Penang, I am certainly reluctant to leave here.
Anecdote: The big-deal spanking-new tourist attraction in town is this pretty neat footbridge over the river; constructed in such a manner that it sways to and fro’ in the middle. At night, it lights up real purty and all. Anywho, after sunset I walked across there for old times’ sake, and just on the other side, sitting in the shadows on a concrete barrier thing, was a guy in a Batman suit and mask. Just sitting there doing nothing — no free hugs or anything. “Where are your shoes?” he asked me; and I’m thinking, “‘Where are my shoes?’ Why the fuck is your dimpled ass sitting here in a fully pleated Batman outfit, and you’re not even giving free hugs or anything? ‘Where are my fucking shoes?’??” Later, I passed by a bearded Britisher sitting on some steps polishing off a Durian and some Rambutans while some goofy meshugana Dutchman was busy lambasting him for not eating a steak.
Fuckin’ tantalising five-hour passage from Kuching this morning. You know what I’m saying? It’s like fuckin’…tantalising — clippering through the South China Sea and then upriver here to Sibu and so forth. (In point of actual fact, I haven’t the foggiest clue what a Clipper ship is, or what differentiates one from, say, a Schooner, or a Galleon, or a Man-O’-War, or what have you. And I’m far too fucked up on Durians right now to try thinking back to those oodles of misspent hours during my youth with my dimpled ass sitting parked in front of the teevee screen, endlessly watching My Three Sons reruns from dawn ’til dusk, to try to clue meself in. But, “Clippering through the South China Sea” just sounds like something one ought to be doing in these parts, ain’t it?) Shit-howdy, maritime travel is so much better than the stagecoach bullshit — almost even as good as riding the rails, if I may say so.
Tamboi — Borneo’s answer to the Mangosteen. Is tasty, but nowhere close to the transcendent experience that is Mangosteen feeding. Also, it’s even more expensive than Mangosteen. This Cempedak, on the other hand, represents pretty unbeatable value for money. At 15RM for the biji, it was almost too big for one hungry fruitlover — who’d just walked an hour in the sweltering heat to present at the market, no less — to eat in one go. Chocolatey, too! I’ve eaten lots of chocolatesque Durians, but can’t remember tasting it in Cempedak before now. I kind of turned away from Cempedak a few years ago, after having eaten one that didn’t sit so well. But after this one, and a very nice small one I chowed in Sibu the other day, I think I’m back in thee Cempedak fold.
Bintulu, like Sibu, is all right, if kind of boring. The people are friendly, and the fruit is great — as is the shoreline access. Actually wouldn’t mind staying another day or two, but, there aren’t any dormitory-style accommodations in town, making it impossible to stick to my daily budget. So, locomoting one’s dimpled ass onward to Miri shall it be…
OH MY GAWD DURIANS TRUCK MIRI!! They’re perhaps a teeny tiny bit on the pricey side; but thee product here is of very, very, very high quality. As is the Dabai — the best I’ve tasted, in fact (and I think I’ve eaten Dabai every single day since arriving in Sarawak).
Also, the owner of the hostel has a friend whom owns a Kedongdong tree, and she (the hostelier, not the friend) shared them around with us. Now, the Scandinavian girls from my dorm are making up songs about Kedongdong. Yea! heavy and a bottle o’ fuckin’ bread, we doing it up big style here on the world’s third-largest island…
p.s. “Banning Of Styrofoam For Food Packaging Use” is my new favourite sentence in all of the English language. I do of course acknowledge that my visceral hatred of plastic and Styrofoam packaging isn’t quite consistent, considering the frequency with which I partake of aeroplane travel anymore. Nevertheless, ban that shit forevermore, say I!
The Thorn Birds. World’s champion Durianist, Miss Lindsay Gasik, has joined our merry little ruffian band here in Miri — meaning, natch, that our dimpled asses are now officially en fuego. Hear now our frightful call: From here on in, no Durian is safe from our probing eyes and attuned noses. We WILL find you. We WILL painstakingly asses your merits. And, oh yes, should you prove worthy, we WILL devour you forever.
Fucking Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! Canistel AKA Eggfruit AKA “Avocado Cheese”, where in thee name o’ Jehova have you been all of my freaking ragamuffinin’ life?? It smells exactly like Pumpkin. I want to say it tastes like fruitcake; but the texture is more like chalk (if chalk were much softer). Yes, I do believe I am totally in lust with you, my cher Avocado Cheezey Cheese.
Difficult to imagine a more appropriate juxtaposition than this: The habitat destruction enabled by all the oil in those tankers’ hulls in the background is the very reason we’re reduced to trying to appreciate, in the foreground, artificial representations of the wildlife which once populated the area in abundance. They oughta put up a statue of a camera-toting, kebab-eating, plastic-disposing, shopping-mall-patronising, baby-having human person — our type is much more endangered than we know.
Ah, well, there are some nice views here, ain’t it?
Just so you know, should they ever decide to replace this with a Tugu Peringatan Triple Six, I’ma set up a permanent encampment here, and you won’t ever see me again (unless you were to come and visit, of course).
Every once a while, one finds oneself in a location of such pleasing mien that the humble passer-through would just as soon sit his/her dimpled ass down on thee floor, and remain there seated ’til the goddam cows come home — if not later. Kampung Tanjung Aru, here in KK, is one such a place.
What did it? ’twas the beautiful blue-green, whitecapped sea, unmarred by those ugly tanker ships visible further upcoast; ’twas the eerie, wind-whipped whistling sound permeating the area, ’twas the days-gone-by nostalgia evoked by the sight of the waves crashing through the houses’ stilts; ’twas the kids gaily splashing around in the roiling water; ’twas the exceptionally friendly locals, not the least bit uptight over seeing a shirtless/barefoot cracker wandering around their neighbourhood — just a few hundred metres from the mosque, no less; ’twas the freshness of the wind-blown air; ’twas the glory of the egret; ’twas the gathering clouds, readying themselves for their daily afternoon raindump; and like that. Natch, it was also thee complete and total absence of those nasty mean Malaysian annoyances, whose unrelenting presence daily causes homeboy to want to out with temper-tantrums untold. You heard right: Here be no motorcycles, no cigarette smoke, no mosquitos, no exhaust fumes, no sidewalkless roads or pedestrian detours to navigate through, and no construction noise. Fucking excellent days indeed!
“And it’s a quarter to four on the other side of the world…”
The northernmost point of Borneo Island. Probably, it wouldn’t be terrifically prudent to up and opine that it’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever instructed my dimpled ass to visit. But I’m pretty sure I’ve never been as gobsmacked upon arriving in a given location. I mean, of course I expected it to be cool — but I wasn’t at all expecting…this. Shit-howdy!
Uh, and you also get miles-long stretches of nice, sandy, rubbish-free beaches from which to witness the gorgeous green bigwave ocean rolling by. AND it’s low season, so the place is almost totally deserted. AND there’s no loud, bumping music or loud, roaring longtail boats to harsh your naturevibe down. AND you can boop across the traffic-less street whenever you want and go tromping through the jungle (just be careful you don’t get your dimpled ass fricasseed by the local mosquito population).
The only problem is there’s no fruit around here, so I’ve gotta eat cooked food for a few days. There are plenty o’ Cocos to ease that particular pain with, at least. (N.B., the ol’ pictures-don’t-do-it-justice-alert is in FULL effect here.)
And just a FYI: There’s a Uruguayan girl staying at my same guest house who’s done Ayahuasca give-or-take one hundred times over the last six years. Oy, backpackers are the best!
A very, very, very, VERY thankful tip of thee hat to Michaela Krejcí for piquing my interest in this place. I’m already dreaming of someday returning for a longer stay — just gotta get hold of a bicycle to go finding some fruit stands with…
Locomoted my dimpled ass out to the Tip Of Borneo for already about the twenty dozenth time, found a rocky seat on the promontory, and rolled a Coconut into the sea. Having completed that particular labour, only one as-yet-unaccomplished goal now remains to be checked off of my life’s list — to wit, being selected to perform “The Star-Spangled Banner” at thee Grand Vizier’s Garden Party and busting out with “Hair O’ The Dog” instead. (A bit cliche, to be sure. But what can one do — our dreams choose us, and not the other way around, ain’t it?)
Yo, this spot, this Borneo tip, this very topmost jut of this very large island? It’s so compelling, so unknowable, so shot through with allure that I find myself desiring to while out the last and final tranche of my allotted born days right here in this very same place; just rolling Coconuts into the sea one after another after another until the man arrives to inform me that my terrestrial parking meter done got expired and it’s now time for me to skedaddle my dimpled ass from off of this most mortalest of coils. Got a few errands to run first, but then I’ll be back.
Last few snaps from thee Tip Of Borneo. Supersad to leave there, but, flight had already been booked, consarn it.
Here’s one for your I-knew-I-was-old-but-I-didn’t-know-I-was-THAT-old file:
Three of my guest house colleagues I had previously acquaintanced at the hostel here in KK — a German gent, a British gent, and a Uruguayan lady (she of the hundred hits of Ayahuasca). Had a lot of fun hanging out with them and all, and happened to mention that the British gent’s fl0wing, curly locks reminded me of Chris Cornell’s. Not only was the remark met with three pained stares of absolute blankness, but it took them a good three or four minutes’ coaching before they were able to correctly pronounce the word “Soundgarden”. Fuck, I’m old.
Since I know your dimpled asses will never be able to get to sleep until I give my KK fruit testimony, well, here it is…
This place is thee Papaya paradise of all time (at least that I’ve ever seen)! There are tonnes of ripe, quality, non-GMO fruits, from many different vendors, at very good prices, every single day from morning ’til late afternoon.
It’s right in the top tier for Coconuts — along with Makassar, Indonesia and Kampot, Cambodia. Great quality, quite good prices, conveniently located, vendors keep reliable hours. Nothing could be finer.
Watermelons — both red-fleshed and yellow- — are a bit on the pricey side, but are quite good and very consistent.
Cucumbers very sweet and very cheap.
Mangosteens are about four times what one would pay in Thailand, and the quality’s not as good; but the strike ratio is much better. And, god dammit all, it’s Mangosteen.
The only place I’ve ever seen Canistel, which is delicious and inexpensive. I’ve finally figured out what it tastes like, too — frickin’ very sweet Graham crackers (and the texture may best be compared to rather soft Graham crackers).
Mangos I never tried, ’cause they’re ten times the price as in Thailand. My first day in town, I (probably a bit haughtily, ’tis true) mentioned the fact to one of the vendors, and they all started making fun of me after that, calling me “Thailand Boy” and whatnot.
Bananas I never tried during my entire stay in Borneo! I always intended to, but there was so much other good shit on offer, I just…didn’t ever get around to it.
Best of all, the markets are close to the waterfront, so not only do you get to take your meals whilst basking in the marvelous view, but also can toss your leavings into the ocean without feeling guilty about fucking over their compostability when putting them into the goddam bin.
Great fruit, supercool hostel, fresh air, almost no motorcycles, pedestrian corridors…KK gets a pretty god damned big thumbup from yours truly.
Behold, a digest from a coupla months in Nepal (which went by way too fast). As always, hyperlinks are to the corresponding timeline post, where even more pics can be found. Also as always, all of the full-res photos can be learnt at my Flickr page, just here.
Made thee traditional barefoot walk from the airport to Thamel, checked in to my number-two favourite hostel in the universe, scored some fruit, and am ready to Be.
I think I allowed Cairo to supplant this place in my imagination, so was a bit surprised at how much returning to Kathmandu feels like returning home. It’s been through a lot of fucking hard times since my last visit; but the 90-minute schlep was enough to reassure me that its flame has yet to be doused. And walking briefly around Thamel brought many memories flooding back in…
Gorgeous people; gorgeous weather; gorgeous Tomatoes: Yes, it’s untoppable Nepal. Come bringing your dimpled asses to join the fun, dearest people of thee Internet! Name me one fucking reason why you shouldn’t?
My (semi-official) brother and sister: We got, we got, we gots thee motherfuckin’ German/Estonian/American trekking squad up in here. You can burn all our mail and disconnect our phones. Quote of the day, courtesy Mr. Lauri Ilves (pictured, left): “This is already my favourite country.”
As for me, personally: I got, I got, I gots one wish, and one wish only. To wit, on that lonesome Saturday (I always seem to kick the bucket on a Saturday; no idea why) when it comes time for me to exit-stage-left this earthly existence, much obliged if you could bury my dimpled ass in Nepal…and shame be upon me for having forgotten just how much I missed being here.
The proprietor here at thee Super Rainbow View tells me that he and his twelve-year-old son can teach me to speak perfect Nepali in one month’s time — free of charge, no less. I’ll be damned if I’m not seriously considering taking him up on thee offer.
Meanwhile, no rainbows to-day, as it’s been unseasonably cloudy since mid-morning. Lauri wanted to push on to Tal, but encountered heavy rains past Chamche, so has turned back and rejoined us. Delia is dealing with a head cold, and I’m missing hiking in my Vibram KSOs (long story); but here we all are, and none of us can quite believe how blessed we are feeling to be in this place.
Woke up at midnight with a very scratchy/sore throat, a slight fever, and a — shall we say — overly active bowel mechanism. A rough night it was; and though I felt a bit better by sunrise, I’ve been in this very same situation here two times before — both times I set out trekking, and both times ended up regretting it. So, instead, I’ma plunk my dimpled ass down in front of thee waterfall for a day of rest, and hopefully be back on the trail again tomorrow.
I’m provisionally marking my difficulties at such low elevation down to the very hot conditions during the first two days’ trekking. Also, I think I’m missing fresh fruit even more than I usually do here. Delia was struggling with the heat, too, as were many other trekkers; but I’ve never really had a problem before now hiking under the hot baking sun (whenever properly hatted-up, of course). Huhn, I guess I didn’t die before I got old, more’s the pity.
It’s frustrating when your body doesn’t perform the way you want it to; but, here, under the shadow of the Himalaya, I’d be a damned fool dunce of an imbecile to meet any setbacks with other than equanimity. I’ll make easy stages, and come what may. I can guarantee you this: There’s no place else I’d rather be.
That said, I’m going to miss my companions a lot. Lauri, in particular…it’s almost scary to me how much I enjoy his company. He’s a man possessed, though — wants to hike eleven hours a day, while I prefer to knock off around Noon, explore the village, and relax. I think Delia is going to end up falling in with three very nice German girls who stayed here last night, and will surely have a grand time with them. I enjoy hiking alone, too, so, it’ll all be good.
Delia said she saw a King Cobra, by the way, on the trail leading here to the Super Rainbow. A Nepali gentleman confirmed that, yes, it is possible to see them all the way up to 2,600 metres. I was hiking about five or ten minutes behind her, but didn’t get to see it….
Well, I had planned to make a very slow pace around the track (every moment spent here is a treasure untold), but not this slow. The fever had worsened by last night, so I didn’t eat anything. Felt pretty good this morning, but after forty hours’ fasting, didn’t think it’d be a great idea to get the trek back on. So, slapped on my daypack (I knew there was a reason I brung that thing), and went for a wander around and about — including down to river’s edge right across from the waterfall. Man a-fucking-live! If I could get some goddam fruit up here, I swear to you I would never leave.
Incidentally, I was more than a bit miffed when LUNA Sandals increased the sole-thickness of their Venado from 7mm to 9mm. That thickness is a real bummer in town, but I have to say that it’s just perfect for rocky terrain. I don’t feel One With Thee Trail in them the way I do in KSOs, but, a major advantage is being able to tromp right through the innumerable runoff streams passing over the road/trail here without worry (Five Fingers smell like re-heated Iguana shit when they get wet and then dry while still on your feet). I did reel in a few Leech bites to-day, but, no biggie…
They say music is the universal language; but I think it may be the Himalaya. Have taken a little side-trip partway up the Manaslu trek. You’re allowed to climb up to the first two villages — Tilche and Gowa — only; and must leave your permit with the ACAP office in Dharepani, lest you present with any bright ideas of trekking further on. I don’t quite understand the policy, to be honest, as it seems to me that if anybody were to show up at a Manaslu checkpoint with an Annapurna permit, their dimpled asses could just be sent marching back the same way they had come.
But, anyhow, I’m already straying off-topic. Which is that I have not the faculties to grok thee things I have seen up here, and certainly not the words to describe them. Except to say that in whichever direction one were to point one’s eyes — forward, backward, upward, downward, leftward, rightward, sidelong, diagonal, you-fucking-name-it — is to be presented with a visual fantasia far beyond the realms of any mortal’s imagination. Must be seen to be believed. Which gets me to the message I’m hoping to impart with this current circular. Viz., sell all your possessions if you must (anyway, they’re going to be worthless fairly soon as we proceed apace into the abyss of ecological and civilisational collapse) and come check this shit out. It’s real.
I suspect, as it happens, that all my puttering around in these early stages of the trek is going seriously to jeopardise my chances of making it up to Thorung La — my digestive tract is a ticking fucking timebomb, and it’s only going to be able to tolerate so many days of cooked food (I’ve learnt here the hard way) before it decides to up and asplode. But if I were to explain you how freaking ecstatically happy I am right now, you’d shoot my dimpled ass dead on thee spot — and probably not even leave a goddam marker. Goals are aight; but diversions, they might be even better.
This place…this is the most hallowed ground there is. They’ve got these goddam jet-black cows up here? So fucking beautiful!
Back in Dharepani now, my permit safe in hand. After having written the above two nights ago, I yesterday morning decided I needed another day up there where no cars (nor jeeps, nor motorcycles) go. Had to switch lodges however, as the mattresses at the first one were like the proverbial granite slab. Nice folk running the joint, but, dang.
Spent the day checking out the area (gogggggg), and as I was the only guest at the new lodge — even though it be high season, I saw very few trekkers up there — the family bade me eat dinner with them in the kitchen, on some rugs layed around the wood-fired cooking stove. And, oh my god, if I loved Nepali people before, I now think they are nothing less than heaven-sent. So nice, and friendly, and fun, and mirthful they are. They even had me helping out making Momos at one point.
It was the proprietess — her husband, a teacher, is on school holiday during festival season, and is currently in Chame — her sister, her twelve-year-old daughter and her ten-year-old niece. The two cousins are of quite different personalities — one rambunctious and zany, the other thoughtful and kind — but both speak more less perfect English. The two sisters’ English is also pretty good, though nothing like the kids’. The kids intuited my yearning to learn it, and said they’d teach me how to speak Nepali for 3,000 Rupees per month.
After dinner, they invited me to go with them to pick up their grandfather, who was arriving on foot from Bagarchap in expectation of the forthcoming festival. I figured they were just being hospitable and all, but after the rendezvous with the grandfather, it came out that the particular stretch of trail upon which we had trod is reputed to be haunted by a ghost whom pulls off and then eats any kid’s leg who is not accompanied by an adult. If I hadn’t agreed to come with them, they said, they’d have let their grandfather make the final twenty minutes or so of his journey all by his lonesome.
The latter doesn’t look a day over forty, by the way, and is blessed with an astounding/beautiful shock of jet-black hair (jet-black is all the rage these days, I guess…). He was to-day slated to slaughter a sheep in preparation for the festival; lucky me, I got out of Dodge before the appointed hour. But I promised the fabulous hosts that I’d one day return — a promise I mean to keep.
Okey, I’ll make an attempt at uploading some photos (slow-to-nil Internet from here on in, I’m guessing). But if you think they are any good, think again: These pictures are SHIT — dogshit, at that — compared with what I have seen with my really eyes. Come check for yourselves, and tell me I’m wrong…
[No rainbows were harmed in the making of this weblog.]
That may not be a yellowbrick road, but Nepal is undoubtedly a land as fantastical as Oz — or probably much more so.
One reason for my lollygagging thus far, and for my feeling somewhat apprehensive about trekking on past Dharepani, is that it’s at this point that the gorge widens into a valley; and where the Circuit’s eponymous Annapurna peaks (7,500m-plus, or need not apply) begin to take over from the river, and the cliffs, and the rice paddies, and the waterfalls, and the lush vegetation as thee primary engine of visual fascination. And it’s been cloudy every afternoon, along with many of the mornings, and rainy in the evenings as often as not — most unusual atmospheric comportment for this time of year (and most confounding for those wishing to gog at the peaks for days on end)!
Back in Chamche, an Australian lady had told us that inclement weather was forecast for a whole another week. And (would you know it) — to-day marking exactly one week since her message — I woke my dimpled ass up this morning, looked at thee sky, and noticed only the clearest of blues. I was this goddam close to hoisting a pint for the Nepali weatherpeeps (as well as, natch, Australian ladies everywhere), when, along about 1:00 in thee PM, the clouds and mist began to rolling in again. Fuck!
[My favourite waterfall of the trek, between Donaqyu and Timang. Froze my dimpled patootie off capturing this footage — I never claimed to be any Jan Grobli?ski behind thee lens, but, don’t ever let it be said that I’ve not suffered for my art, ain’t it?]
Well, I suppose I can live with afternoon cloudiness — adds some regular ethereality to the proceedings, and all — so long as the mornings remain clear.
It was a bit muddy on the trail to-day (see picture, enclosed). I was hiking with some Russian folk for a while, and at one point, one of them — “Alexei”, by name — rather brazenly declared my footwear “not suitable for jogging.” As I was trying to formulate a properly sarcastic response, he with the help of one of his mates amended his brazen words to “…not suitable for trekking.” After our passage through the Mud Zone, he came to me with hat in hand, and offered that he now knew why I had chosen to hike in sandals. (Though, factually, barefoot is even better through muddy terrain — but I was too lazy to remove the shoes…)
Yer (Unofficial) Nepal Tourism Board Special Correspondent
Woke up this morning (the 16th, I believe) to the sound of steady rain making pitter-patter on the roof here in Timang. God damn fricking doublefuck! The rain had stopped by about 9:00 in the AM, and the other guests were ready to hit the trail: A German gent, sixty-ish, making his ninth visit to Nepal (!); an Indian lad, quite a friendly sort until he smoked a big reefer before dinner and was unable to communicate thereafter; and a pair of mid-twenties Californians who’ve been hiking together for a few days now.
I was tempted to join the latter, as it sounds like they’re proceeding at about my pace, and I rather enjoyed talking with them about music and whatnot; but, finally, I’m a slave to thee view, and as there was nary a break in the overcast elected instead to take my dimpled ass down into the Magic Faerie Forest (as I’ve always called the stretch of trail between Donaqyu and Timang — walking through feels like being in a Tim Burton movie) for the day.
I’d seen a trail near the bridge that seemed like it might be fun, and followed it up and up and up and up and up. Every time I thought I was near the top, it turned out I had in fact not been. Eventually I managed to figure out (slow learner here) that what looked like daylight breaking over the ridgetop was merely an illusion of the mist. So I at last turned back without meeting trail’s end.
A most pleasantly peaceful day it was, though: The only sounds to be heard were the ever-present Cicadas, the tumblecrash of a distant waterfall, and the occasional birdchirp.
Now in Chame, in one of my fave lodges on the Circuit; hard by thee River Marsyangdi. Am connected, but only just barely. We’ll see whether it’s possible to upload a few pics…
Oct. thee 19th: Sheesh, what a differnce a day can make. Yesterday was warm and sunny and beautiful, with stunning views three-hundred-sixty degrees of the circle; and friendly fellow-trekkers all over the lot (as previously noted, the trail has been eerily quiet this year; but there were oodles of trekkers heading out of Chame — apparently they’re all now getting motorised transport up to that point, and beginning their trek from there).
Annapurna trekkers are just the best — I think we’re all so beside ourselves to be here that none of us can help but to be bubbling over with friendly vibes. Including, one Kiwi expat now residing in Australia, noticing my footwear, just about bowled me over with her kindness when she pulled me aside to make sure that I was doing okay. I bought these brand-new-on-the-market very durable shoe-socks — “Skinners”, by name — just before coming here, and have been alternating days with those and the Lunas. Yesterday, hiking in amongst so many people, they attracted a lot of attention, for both better and worse. Anyway, the Kiwi expat turned out to be a most agreeable sort; she’s hoping to bring her eight- and five-year-old kids here next year to hike the Poon Hill trek — how fucking cool is that?
I needs must bid a tearful adieu, however, to two of the homies from back Timang (my, but that lodge attracts some inneresting folk…): A pair of Kuala Lumpurian accountants, Chinese by descent, with whom I’d been hiking on and off since then, and whom are the sweetest/cutest/friendliest pair of Kuala Lumpurian accountants one would ever want to meet. (I daren’t tell them my true feelings of their home town, ha ha.) They’re planning to make faster progress than I want to from here, so I bade them merry happy trekkings, goosed their dimpled asses for good luck (okay, not really — I should have done, though), and sent them on their way. I believe there’s still one person from the two nights in Timang currently behind me — viz., the sixty-ish German fellow (“Hans”, by name) I mentioned before. I passed him two days ago scoping out the river with (what looked like) children’s field glasses, and haven’t seen him since — perhaps I shall yet re-make his acquaintance.
But to get back to thee narrative, yesterday was the first day that I really had my mojo working on the climbs. Ascending steep hills is practically my favourite thing on god’s green pebble to do — not only whilst hiking, but, full fuckin’ stop. For reasons I have not yet ascertained, however, this year here it’s felt more like a drudgery than it has a joyment. But, yesterday I was so in sync with the trail that I went to bed thinking that I might to-day blow right through Upper Pisang and traipse it all the way up to Ghyaru — that’s a 700m elevation gain, pace the recommended daily allowance of 300-500 once over 3,000 metres — but it seemed like it might be okay to try, considering I’d spent five nights at 2,400, and was about to spend one at 3,000.
Hit the trail this morning after a good night’s sleep, though, to find that I had no energy whatever; it was thee mightiest of struggles just to make it here to Upper Pisang and put down stakes for the night. And this is where it always happens to me, no matter how quickly or how slowly I come to arrive at this elevation — Upper Pisang or Ghyaru always lay me low. The not-unfamiliar symptoms — extreme lethargy, fever, slight headache, diarrhoea — are now all in tow.
Well, stuck inside of Pisang with the Ghyaru blues again is far from the worst way to be. Don’t ever think that I’m sitting here crying, “Woe is me, why can I not be presented at the conclusion of each day’s trekking with a nice, big eighteen-pound Watermelon and a couple-few ex.-large Avocados?” Nah, sanguininity is my word of the day (is that a word?): Gunnah accept each obstacle as it comes, see if I can’t learn something from it, and proceed on down the trail (an appropriately Buddhistic attitude for the locale, I guess).
And in whichsoever direction that trail should wind — up over Thorung La or not — be assured that I am going to be drinking in the impossibly marvellous views, and basking in the glowing warmth of the unmatched Nepalese hospitality, more appreciatively than possibly any wayward sumbitch of a trekker has ever done before. I am in love with this country like none other.
p.s. My verdict on the Skinners: I wish the sole were just a tiny, little bit thicker for hiking over very rocky terrain; and there is a bit of a break-in needed. But, otherwise, yes, they’re quite lovely. I still rate the KSO as the ultimate hiking shoe; but if they were to roll out a slightly-thicker-soled model, I think I’d put the Skinner at No. 2. Neither is appropriate for wintry conditions, of course…
p.p.s. Check out the placement of the drapes here in my room — set back from the window as they are, it rather makes the extra-wide windowsill look like it should be used as a proscenium. Tell you what, if I find myself unable to drag my dimpled ass up to Ghyaru, I might just have to come back down here, carve up some puppets, open wide thee windows, and put on a goddam show, ain’t it??
p.p.p.s. Oof, now the lodge owner is all discombobulated because I don’t want to order any food. I tried proselytising the old/good aphorism — Starve a fever, or you will Feed a cold — but he would not be mollified. Can’t really blame him, in point of fact: Meals are where they really make their cashmoney, after all. Still, a little consideration for thee infirm wouldn’t be completely out of line, would it? Anyway, I’ll do right by them when it comes time to pay the bill.
Oct. thee 20th: Have descended back down to Lower Pisang following a restless night in the Upper. Will hopefully put it back on the trail toward Manang tomorrow…
Heading out of Pisang, I spun every single prayer wheel at the local Mani Wall. Never the less, my innards (not to mention many of my goddam outtards as well) are in open, contemptuous revolt at my having yet again brought them up to this rarefied elevation. But my eyes…mine eyes will forever cherish these days!
D’you wanna know what else? Two new Buddhists were made to-day; and here’s how the fuck it went down…
German Trekker: What’s this supposed to be? Nepali Guide: It’s a stupa. German Trekker: “Astupa”? Nepali Guide: Yeah. Me [Making a clockwise circling motion]: You’re supposed to walk around it. Nepali Guide: Yeah; clockwise. German Trekker: “Walk around”?? Me: Yeah…”circumambulate”. German Trekker [Beginning to circumambulate counter-clockwise]: Okey… Me: No, you’re going the wrong direction? German Trekker: “Wrong direction”? Me: You need to go clockwise. Nepali Guide: Yeah. German Trekker: [Beginning to circumambulate clockwise.]
German Trekker’s Friend: I’ll join you.
…And so it came to pass. At the stupa you can slough off your pack and climb up a nearby hill to get a commanding view of the valley below. Dunno why nobody else joined me in going up there — I’m the one feeling shite, after all. About that commanding view of the valley (I think I’ve told this before), it’s believed that the massive rockface hanging over Dikhur Pokhari like Damocles’ sword — “Heaven’s Door”, by name — must be clumb by the souls of the faithful departed all the way to the top before they’ll be permitted to sup of that great Daal Bhat in thee sky. Well, I dunno, maybe even the unfaithful departed can get them a little somethin’-somethin’, too, provided they’re able to manage the feat…
(And in re “shite”, by taking a page out of my bro’ Lauri’s book, I’ve to-day learnt how to feel not nearly as shite-y after all. His trick is to take the climbs only at a pace whereon no heavy breathing would be induced. Me, I love racing up the hills at top speed, huffing and puffing myself real good one all thee while — makes me feel like a goddam human again, or some shit. But for god’s own reasons, I find myself unable to do so this year — at least not without feeling like a freaking deadman. So I took the ascents at the recommended pace — seriously, I was eating the snails’ dust — and also rested wherever I spied porters resting; and…I felt pretty semi-okay. Also felt like a fucking two-year-old baby unable to clean its own ass up, having to go so slow — but I guess it beats feeling like a freaking deadman and all…)
Along the path to-day was a old man selling homemade amulets and Yak antlers and whatnot. Though I didn’t see any on display, I on a lark asked if he had any Syaau for sale (that’s the Nepali word for Apple — though I’ll be god damned if I can get anybody to understand what I’m on about when I try and order some from them). He bade me follow him through yon gate and into his little compound, promising, “Many-many.” He weren’t lying, neither; not only were there many-many, but they were priced to move as well, at only one hundred rupees the kilo.
Better still, just a few paces away from, he’d erected the beautiful dung-topped shrine pictured here. He told me it was dedicated to the Three Babas. A baba is, I believe, a kind of like, venerated old man. I don’t know to which three babas he was referring — but I’m pretty sure I could not possibly have cared less.
As I was taking his leave, he asked if I were travelling on to Manang. “Ah, probably Braka,” I responded, “Maybe even Humde.”
He made a sort of approving gesture with his hand and intoned, “Slooow; slooow.”
“YES!” I screamed aloud — this Yak-horn-sellin’ son of a bitch gets it! He really, really gets it. (I think he does a pretty good business there, too, as he had no trouble whatever in changing out my thousand-rupee note for the hundred rupees’ worth of Apples.)
I thought I’d maybe stop somewheres along to gog thee scenery and chow them down; but as I was entering Humde, a gentleman carrying on his back the firewood he’d been out harvesting all the day long caught up to me and started giving me any and all manner of shit over my choice of footwear. Even after I showed to him the sole, and so patiently explained that they’re not socks, but rather shoe-socks, he still disapproved.
He also (being a goddam lodgesmith, and all) disapproved of my stated intention to, for thee midday meal, find myself dining upon the recently procured Apples — although he was keen to know from whence they’d been purchased, and for how much. I followed him up the path to his joint — “Maya Lodge”, by name — where he invited me in for tea. Which, I didn’t care for any god damned tea; but I did end up taking a room here. Fucking beautiful, it is.
So fucking beautiful, indeed, was this day’s walk, that I’m almost embarrassed to share any pictures from it; that’s how stinkin’ inferior are they to thee real/live deal — believe me. Meantime, if somebody knows of another place to get delicious, cheap, local, organic Apples before paying his or her respects at a dung-topped shrine to the three babas whilst surrounded on all sides by thee grandeur untold, then, do gimme a holler — I would surely like to visit. Until then, you’ll find my dimpled ass seated right here in Nepal, just where it ever belongs.
p.s. I gave an Apple to this one mantra-chantin’ motherfucker down the hall from me, and he seemed pretty chuffed about it.
I’ve spent so much time wandering around up here I feel like a fuckin’ one-man diaspora. It’s all right: Found someone to change some greenbacks for me, so it may now be possible to make this place my new homeland. Could you blame my dimpled ass if I were to?
There’re so many day-hiking opportunities out of Manang, one could go hog wild for a good week-and-half and still not exhaust them all. What’s more, when arriving thee dimpled ass back to the village, can be found Apples, Tomatoes, and Cucumbers of surprisingly delicious vintage. (Though in point of fact I to-day packed Apples with to enjoy from the top.)
Hiked up above 4,000 metres (only with the daypack, of course) and felt pretty semi-okay up there. So, perhaps they’ll acclimatise my dimpled ass yet (inshallah).
It’s snowing in Manang right now, and the Hebrews at my lodge are losing their shit. (I’ve told before that this trek attracts very many Israelis — they all use porters, even though only in their twenties, and party theur dimpled asses off all the way around. Last night there was a huge group here; they self-catered their vittles to ensure kosherarity, then lit some candles and sang a whole bunch of songs which sounded all right.)
While we’ve been Internetless for several days’ time here (owing to a “blockage” somewhere down the mountain), I’ve been day-hiking/acclimatising my dimpled ass almost unto oblivion. Here’s a diary of two days on the Ice Lake trail…
Oct. thee 24th: A day-trip up to Ice Lake — at 4,600m, apparently the highest in the world — turned into a day-trip to Ice Lake Restaurant (roughly two-thirds of the way to the lake) as I got a bit of a late start, and underestimated how much time the climb would take.
Still, at about 4,200m, that’s certainly the highest elevation to which I’ve ever instructed my dimpled ass to climb (no, I don’t think that time I rented a motor-car and drove up to the top of Mauna Kea counts); and I felt…pretty semi-okay. It was a grueling hike, to be sure, but as for the payoff: Too rewarding to be described.
Took a longer-but-easier route back down — via Muggje rather than Braka — as the latter trail was rather steep/slick in places (ascending such terrain, I feel agile as a goddam Mountain Goat; but going back down…more like a frickin’ Dugong). The walk through the valley back to Manang during the afternoon glow, and in amongst a herd of feeding Yak, was pretty magical in its own right.
Colour my dimpled ass: Happier’n a pig in shit. Will attempt to make the full hike all the way up to the lake in a day or so; and want to get in a few other ones as well before, hopefully, setting thee sights upon Thorung La.
p.s. I’ve been devouring obscene quantities of Tomatoes, in case you’re scoring at home. But, day-hiking and devouring Tomatoes: That’s (to quote Kriss Kross) what I was born to do…
Oct. thee 27th: Got up early, scurried down to the Ice Lake trailhead at Braka, and instructed my dimpled ass to march itself all the way up this time. Unlike the other day, the trail was pretty busy to-day — great for camaraderie and all, but also served as an abject lesson in my current ability to hike at altitude. I’m used to more less never being passed whilst ascending; but on this day I was a decidedly second-division climber.
Based upon to-day’s findings, I rate my chances of getting up and over Thorung-La at somewhat south of 50%. But I did, at least, do pretty semi-okay in the 4,600m altitude. Had some slight headache symptoms, but nothing major. Perhaps all these nights spent here in Manang are finally beginning to pay off.
As for thee scenics, the lake was nice enough, though as nothing compared with the surroundings. The latter, I’d wager, were objectively speaking the most insane sight I’d ever have seen — made better, unlike my previous foray to these parts, by an absence of clouds covering the peaks (some did begin forming after noon, but — bless their hearts — came in behind the mountains). Emotionally, my heart still thumps harder for the reveal at Papu Chong, however (about which, more later).
Oct. thee 25th: Another day-hike to-day. Also, another late start, on account of it was all socked-in cloudy ’til mid-morning. This one — “Papu Chong”, by name — promised a closeup view of the glacier, as well as good acclimatisation and so forth.
I wasn’t even sure if I was on the right trail at all, as it’s not marked, and as I never saw another soul all the whole time — save for, near the bottom, about a dozen ladies, spaced five minutes apart or so, and each carrying back into the village a way-overfull bushel-basket packed with straw.
The last of these gave me the third degree real good one — wanting to know (in words to the effect) what was my business on the trail, and why I was hiking without friends, and so on and so on. Ominously, she kept repeating over and over that to continue further on up the trail promised certain danger. But I could never get her to out with the nature of the dangerous tidings: Banditos? Abominabable Snowmen? Sudden shifts in the weather? Tricky footing conditions sending dimpled asses pell-mell over thee cliff? Or what? So, I continued on, somewhat more warily than before.
The trail was quite steep-up, but very well kept, and visibly leading up to the top. So I figured that even if it were the wrong trail, I’d still see something up there. Unlike the Ice Lake trail, though, when the view was growing gradually and gradually the more spectacular, to-day was no view at all (save for some interestingly misshapen trees and their floor-dropped piney cones). Finally, up near the tip-top, I saw some stalactite things, and mused, “Well, if nothing else, I can get a picture of this.”
Five minutes later, summitting the ridgetop and seeing the tableau laid out before me, my knees began to buckle, my heart began to race, and my eyes popped out my head. Nothing could possibly have prepared me for what was waiting at the top of that climb. After to-day, Thorung La is now even more an afterthought for me. I’ll still give it thee college try and all; but I believe I have now fulfilled whatever purpose my life possibly could ever have had. I could die tomorrow and go to heaven — die tomorrow and go to hell. Stuff my dimpled ass into a cannon and shoot it at the sun, if you like — I’m good with it.
Seeing and feeling these enormous and humbling sights day after day after day has been the thrill of a lifetime. But to-day was the most thrilling of all — nothing could ever make me forget the emotional charge of being in such close proximity to these mountain peaks. As I was walking out to the point of nearest nearness, I felt in a way as though I were re-enacting the climactic scene from Close Encounters. I didn’t get escorted into thee mothership — but I’m nonetheless a changed human bean.
Huhn, maybe that’s the danger that lady was warning me about — perhaps I’ll never be able to live in the world again, having seen these sights. Maybe the Himalaya have so warped my being, I’ll now just end up like an Acid Casualty, or a slack-jawed yokel, when attempting to be an upstanding, civilised, motherfucker. If so, it was worth it; it was really, really worth it. There is only Nepal. Come here and experience it while you still can.
n.b., The pictures you see here are shit of the shittiest stripe (and I note that I failed miserably to capture the 360-degree nature of being in that area) — but, I believe that’s Annapurna III on the left, and Gangapurna on the right.
Oct. thee 29th: Had planned to make another jaunt up to Papu Chong, but it was all frickin’ cloudy again, so I instead walked out of Manang a ways to get some acclimatisation all up in me.
Stopped at a shoppe and ordered some Seabuckthorn juice — that’s the local Manang drink that one sees being proffered everywhere. I haven’t seen the actual berries growing anywheres, but apparently they’re quite difficult to harvest, ’cause of thee thorns. They serve it warm, which I weren’t expecting; but, all right. Then, it tastes like TANG, which I wasn’t really expecting, either; but, okey, TANG ain’t the worst thing I’ve ever tasted. However, it also threw me intestines for a bit of a loop — so, I don’t suppose I’ll be drinking that shit no more…
The gentleman pictured here wearing the “Sexy” cap wanted a hundred Rupees for the honour of his photograph, but eventually settled for ten. I drive a hard fucking bargain, mang.
Oct. thee 30th: Trekked to Gunsang, the next village after Manang. Took it very slowly, and felt very good. Could probably have gone on to Yak Kharka without any issues — but given my history, I’m extremely paranoid about gaining too much elevation in any one day. So instead hiked far enough up yon nearby hill to gain thee master view (that I have seen to-date, that is) of the peaks and the valley below. Ain’t complaining so far…
Oct. thee 31st: Trick or treat! Locked myself in the goddam shitter in the middle of the night at the lodge in Ledar — and though I can laugh about it now, it was a bit of a tense situation, considering how cold it was (you’d think, at this elevation, we could get indoor toilets, but, noooooo…).
The can had a little hand-carved wooden latch to keep the door from flying open when the facilities weren’t in use; and when I stepped inside to do my business, I heard a somewhat disconcerting click from the outside. Fearing the worst, I checked the exit path, and, sure enough, the way was barred. I was wearing: Two pairs of socks, one pair of shoes, one pair of boxer briefs, and a thermal top. Pretty hypothermic.
After finishing my business, I began banging the door against the latch for a while to see if it might click back out of place; but, no dice. Kinda surprised nobody heard the racket and got up to see what was going on, in fact.
After trying for a while to stick the nail which serves as the inside latch through the crack and manipulate the wooden one out of the way, I finally gave up, put my whole weight into it, and crashed through the door just like in a goddam Hollywood picture show. You can even see — to this very day — where I broke off the offending corner of the wooden latch. Given my clothing, though, I fear I looked much more like Bob Denver than I did Sterling Hayden. Also lucky I didn’t sprain my ankle, as it’s a pretty long step down.
Well, they choppered my dimpled ass back to Kathmandu to-day after I fainted in the pooper (no joke) and bruised up my ribs real good one — not to mention nearly garrotting meself on I-know-not-what surface. What later followed was straight-up the worst night of my life: The pain, along with the altitude and the unbearable cold (think constant shortness of breath and frequent heart palpitations from midnight ’til dawn) allowed for not a single wink of sleep.
That said, I did feel a little guilty ordering up the ride — most people are rescued owing to life-threatening altitude sickness…or at least some broken bones. Still, I didn’t have much choice — waiting it out, my usual course of action, just wasn’t viable in those conditions. The lodge-owner (nicest guy ever, but…) wanted me to get a horse to Manang and then a jeep to Besi Sahar, which sounded like a recipe for pain untold. And hiring out a porter and walking down beside would’ve been expensive, time-consuming, and…very painful (more less any movement sets it off). So, a heli it was. The owner of the neighbouring lodge was like a kid on Christmas morning when he heard it coming; said I was about thee luckiest guy around.
Mad heaps o’ thanks to Abdulla Muhammad and Global Rescue for the fabulous, professional, hands-on service; to the American Alpine Club for offering the service as one of its membership benefits (though, frankly, if it had been determined that my situation weren’t serious enough to merit winged extraction, I was ready to pay for it on my own dime — and for a notorious tightwad such as myself, one can imagine how dire I considered my straits to be); to Fishtail Air for the very smooth (not to say scenic!) passage; and to CIWEC Hospital for being willing to waive the consultation fee for those presenting sans insurance — hell, they even returned the ambulance fee after realising I’d arrived via Fishtail, whose service includes the ambulance. And of course, all props to my mum, Mrs. Shirley Baxter, for facilitating the arrangement Stateside when the local efforts had failed utterly.
I dunno, perhaps I’d after a few days have begun to adapt to the conditions — I noticed the Nepalis didn’t seem to be bothered by them. But, when you’re feeling desperate, rationality kinda goes flying out the window, ain’t it? The decision to despatch the ‘copter was not mine, of course; but in hindsight, I’ve come to think that — painful though it would have been — the horse/jeep option would have been the most appropriate way to go. (I was very shocked, when we stopped to refuel at the airstrip in Humde, to see them putting something like sixty gallons of petrol up in there — that’s gotta be the most ecologically flagrant thing I’ve done in a very, very, very long time. How many trees would I need to plant in penance?)
In my experience (I am the KING of bruised ribs) I’ll be fairly ambulatory in a week or so, and back to normal in about a month — maybe less. Until then, you can find me lying prone on the bed (very stilly sitting isn’t so bad, either), listening to many podcasts, and wincing in pain every couple of minutes. Fun times! When you think about it, though, while this injury is painful in the extreme, so long as one has not punctured a lung (the doctor said that happens in about one in a thousand cases), it’s not nearly so serious as the level of pain would suggest. Just requires lots of patience. (And, yes, very nice lady though she was, the doctor did try to push some fucking pain meds on me — orange you surprised? — on the grounds that rib injuries are “different”. But I wasn’t buying in to any of that shaky logic. It’s not that I revel in discomfort — far from it. But pain is a very important signal from the body. To mask that symptom — to sweep any symptom under the rug — is thee devil’s own way…)
By the way, that village where I took my tumblefall, “Thorong Phedi”, by name? It’s three miles from the pass. Three stinkin’ miles. Some things, some things were never meant to be, I think… That said, the incident may have been a blessing in disguise — I can’t but assume it was altitude-related; and while I was trying to be hyper-vigilant for early warning signs of AMS (headache, dizziness, loss of appetite, extreme fatigue with minimal exertion), none of which were present to any real degree, I know I was struggling with it. Although being only a very short distance from Thorung La, there were still a full thousand metres’ worth of elevation to gain — who’s to say, had I continued on up the trail, that I mayn’t have had a even worse fate befall thee dimpled ass?
I remember hiking for a while a few years ago with a very experienced trekker from Australia — “Rachel”, by name. She said she had once turned back only a hundred metres away from reaching the highest point in South America — and that while everyone afterward was completely incredulous, she knew that she should have turned back even much sooner. I guess what I’m trying (again) to say: I love Nepal like no other place; and feel just so incredibly, unbelievably blessed and fortunate to be able to be here…come ever what may. (And, also, whatever rat-racin’ shenanigans you’ve got going on in your home town: Give ’em up! Become a fuckin’ hobo, and hie thine dimpled ass here to Nepal — god’s own land. You shan’t regret it.)
Have for the past week or so been getting a fair amount of walking in — 20,000 steps daily, give or take, along the lake and in town. But to-day I decided to go all-in and march my dimpled ass up to the top of Sarangkot; the local hill noted for its outrageous mountain and lake views, as well as the place from which the paragliders take flight. You’re supposed to go up for sunrise or sunset, but I’ve done that in the past; now, I wanted to see if I could actually survive a spot of exercise. By far the most strenuous activity in three weeks’ time, and while I wouldn’t say the back felt great, neither did it feel horrible.
It happened to be a hazy one, and the mountains were partially obscured by clouds (that’s usually more of a springtime phenomenon), but, all right, still a beautiful day for a stroll. At 2,000 feet of elevation gain, it’s actually a bit less of a climb than West Tiger 3 — though it feels like a bit more. The glory of Nepal, ain’t it?
By the way, if any if y’all are snowbirds looking to broaden thee ol’ horizons outside of Arizona or Palm Springs, why not try overwintering here in Pokhara? The weather is more perfect than perfect: Eighty-ish during the day, fifty-ish overnight, nary a cloud up in the sky, no humidity. Rather reminds me of Seattle in the back half of August, in fact (though the days are a bit shorter). It’s got the best scenery, the best butterflies, the friendliest people, hiking opportunities to beat the band, delicious-as fruits and veggies. What more would you be needing?
Oh, yeah: The place I’m staying now — four bucks a night for an en suite. Sure, it’s no-frills; but it’s got thee amenities you’ll never find in town (while being only about a ten-minute walk from the main road): Peace and goddam quiet, yo. Some construction noise is audible during the day, but being on a small dirt trail, motorcycles are virtually non-existent. And at night, it’s only dem crickets. Come check it the fudge out (in my opinion).
Arf! They’d been just-okay ’til now, but suddenly these Pokharan Avos have kicked themselves into overdrive. The specimen pictured here is from three years ago; and hardly a day has passed since without me regaling the fuck out of one poor sap or sapette after another with the story of the Avocado from Pokhara what was as big as my left foot and whose ripeness was so perfect I could lick it like a goddang iced cream cone.
The one I et yesterday may just have been the best one since that earth-shattering experience — and (moreover) thee Watermelons, which I keep thinking should be about ready to go out of season, instead just keep getting better and better with each passing moment.
Yea, you heard right: It’s another day in the 100% Success Zone…
Last pix (at least for this year) from Pokhara-by-thee-lake. Went back up to Sarangkot and felt okey. If I had to put a number on it, I’d say the back’s about seventy percent healed; maybe seventy-five. Twisting and bending are both still out the question, but locomotion ain’t so bad now. I keep seeing bicycles with only one fuckin’ training wheel — and even the one is not engaged. Weird.
Nepali Homeowner: Where are you going? Me: Sarangkot. Homeowner: It’s better to go up early in the morning; now, it will be too cloudy. Me: Yeah, but I’m really going for the exercise. Homeowner: Oh! Exercise! [Gesturing] Go on up. Have a good day, and have a good time.
The town of Gorkha — about an hour’s drive up a very steep, winding road off the highway linking Pokhara and Kathmandu — was the birthplace of the first warlord to unify all of Nepal. It was from Gorkha that he launched his campaign, but, when he conquered Kathmandu he relocated his kingdom to there, and instead of claiming its rightful status as the locus of the Nepali project, Gorkha remained a backwater. But Nepalis still recognise it as the place from whence the nation sprung, and one can still come visit the old temple, and buy some of the plastic crap being sold by the roadside vendors and all.
The temple is okay, though it pales in comparison to to the ones in Kathmandu and Bhaktapur. But, anyhow, the setting is quite pretty — among the highlights, a sweeping view (before the mid-morning clouds arrive and occlude the fuck out of it, that is) of Mt. Manaslu, the world’s third-highest peak. The walk up from town along the stone path/stairway is pretty rigorous; as is, further along, the walk up to what I thought was going to be the O.G. Castle Keep, but turned out instead to be just some unrecognisable ruins and a goofy comms tower. Additionally, there are innumerable hills for climbing up to the top of in case you forgot what the view looked like from the next one over — one of ’em (nice touch) even has a bench swing and a couple of slides up there. You could hike your dimpled ass off from sunup to sundown every day of thee year, and still never summit them all (or so it seems like).
The problem with all this is that the town is a royal shithole — the loudest motorcycles I’ve ever heard, these goddam tractors driving all up and down the valley, endless construction noise, bus horns blaring, dogs barking and barking all day and all night. Even from some lonely ridgetop way the Hell and gone up above the town, all the maddening goings on can still be heard clear as day — I dunno, I guess the sound travels well in the thin air, or some shit. So, it’s not nearly as serene as it looks like it ought to be.
It’s a bit difficult, therefore, to recommend, even given the great hiking. The people here are incredibly friendly, however. And, moreover, while it’s known for the deliciosity of its Oranges (which, indeed, are quite good), it was the quality of its Cucumbers that I had a tough time coming to grips with. They’re just crazy, almost to say impossibly, delicious — and I eat a fuckload of Cucumbers, so you can trust me what I’m telling you to-day.
There was an accident on the highway to-day which had traffic stopped in both directions — the minivan I was in for forty-five minutes or so, and we weren’t all that close to the front of the line. My initial reaction was that I was shocked that accidents didn’t occur here more frequently, given the nature and conditions of the road, and the absolutely insane recklessness with which motorists pilot their vehicles. “Why can’t you just slow the fuck down?” I always want to ask them.
But then while we were stopped, a body was carried on a stretcher up the hill and in front of the van, which was the first inkling I had that it could be something very bad — why was the body being carried up the hill rather than down the road? Sure enough, when traffic got moving again and we reached the site of the accident, there were scores of rubberneckers standing at the side of the road and gaping down to the river — and it’s a long way down from there. Horrific. Still, I didn’t think it would have been a bus, as I’d only seen the one body being brought up.
Turns out it was a bus. And also turns out that fatal accidents involving buses here are much more common than I had realised. Which, considering the frequency with which I’ve used them on that highway, has me more than a little freaked out…
While I certainly had never forgotten that I loved Kathmandu, I think it might be fair to say that I had forgotten how much I love this city. Pretty crazy, though, walking around seeing how much damage the temples suffered during the earthquake. The Chinese are pouring all kinds of money into returning them to World-Heritage status, but it’s like I’ve been saying: There will come a time, not too far down the road, when we’ll not be able to afford to engage in rebuilding/restoration projects, and the places waylaid by natural disaster will simply be abandoned.
Meanwhile, the broadly smiling lady here wouldn’t stop pestering my dimpled ass to get me to throw down for one of her homemade handbags. Kept showing me all the different pockets all up in them, and reminding me that, “Cissmass present — also possible,” and so on. Finally, I was able to buy her off with my offer of twenty Rupees to pose for a nice picture.
Au Revoir, Nepal; can’t even wait to make your acquaintance again!
I may be a minority of one, but…I kind of love Manila! Only walked around for a few hours, and only in some areas near the airport, but, people are really cool, Bananas are cheap and delicious — what more you need? Don’t know why I became reluctant to go snapping the street scenes, as that’s usually my number one stock in trade; suffice to say that on this lazy Sunday afternoon, everybody was out singing, dancing, playing, getting drunk, razzing the farang (don’t know what terminology the locals call us by here) walking through their neighborhood, and otherwise enjoying the weekend. Oh, also, from what I have seen, I think Manila’s traffic may be even more gridlocked than Bangkok’s — and that’s something I never thought I would see.
By the way, look at these two basketballs being layed-in: One’s the size of a medicine ball, t’other the size of a Grapefruit. Weird. And, assuming it’s not readable here, the name on the back of #17’s jersey in the ONE TIME mural is “Poor Boy”. Well, it made me laugh, if no one else…
Aeroplane Captain just finished announcing that we could not proceed directly to the gate due to “parking space problem”. Alas, I seemed to be the only passenger to find humour in that particular choice of phrase.
But the concept is pretty funny too, isn’t it? I’m picturing a series of freshly arrived big old jet airliners circling ’round the tarmac trying to find parking spaces; the pilots cursing each other out for stealing their spots at the last moment, parking their jumbo jets in designated compact spaces, failing to return their gate bridges to the holding bin, and various and sundry other perceived or real crimes and/or misdemeanors.
There is nothing more je ne sais quoi than music, ain’t it? With the exception of one song — Deep Purple’s “Wasted Sunsets” — during my youth music never brought me to the brink of tears, though I was listening to it constantly. The older I get, however, I find it hitting me in the thumpy place with ever-increasing frequency.
Take this fine gentleman here, for example. One might consider his playing basic or unsophisticated or what, but as I shuffled past of a Saturday’s eve, no argument could possibly have convinced me that it wasn’t the most beautiful sound I ever had heard. Dropped some coins in his Donation Box and proceeded down the stairs, but by the time I’d got to the bottom, I was so in thrall, I had to head back up and shoot some footage. Looking at it now, I only wish I’d kept the camera rolling a few minutes more…
UPDATE: Meanwhile, a dude in the dorm is playing The Scorpions on his mobile without putting the headphones — which is a pretty grievous violation of generally accepted dormitory etiquette. But when thee Scorpions are involved? When thee Scorpions are involved, you can take your fuckin’ dormitory etiquette and ram it all thee way up your fuckin’ bootyhole (is what I say).
UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: I guess there must be a headphone shortage in the Philippines, because now there’s a different dude violating etiquette and deejaying out tunes to the entire dorm. Just as I was beginning to wonder how perturbed I thought I ought to be (I like Adele, but can only really take her in small doses), he switched over to a clip of Springsteen covering “You Never Can Tell” with a white-hot horn section, followed by Morello guesting on “Ghost Of Tom Joad”.
Uh, anybody needs me, I’ll be over here trying to scrape my jaw off the floor. (And, oh yeah: Fuck dormitory etiquette!)
Truthfully, you could say any dirty filthy nasty mean-hearted thing you wanted to say about Durian itself, I wouldn’t even squawk. But whoso deigns to besmirch/impugn/slander the fine good name of the Durian People: Just know that I will fuck…you…up.
Having spent a very great many farmside and parkside feastings with them in Thailand, Malaysia, and now here in thee Philippines, I feel very confident in my assessment of the Durian People as the most awesomest in all of space-time. Such a beautiful community.
(I can hear some of you wondering, “You really expect me to believe that these Durian People are more awesomer even than the Fegs?” Yeah, the Fegs; it’s a valid argument. Well, let’s call it a draw…)
Wow. This demi-monde of a Puyat here was not only the best Durian I’ve eaten since arriving, but has also incited me to slip Davao past Chanthaburi and into second place among Durian centres whose produce I have sampled. Penang still reigns as thee undisputed champion, but — especially considering it’s apparently a down year here — colour my dimpled ass: Impressed.
Kan Yao AKA Ganyao AKA Ganja; the most prestigious variety in Thailand — with the price tag to match. While its reputation is well earned, here in Davao the quality is as good as in Thailand, if not slightly better…for about one-fifth the price. I’d call that a goddam bargain (the best I ever had). I’d also call it one of the very finest Durians of the season — except that I’ve had so many great ones in my time here that it’s about impossible to keep track anymore.
In the meanwhile, the proprietor of the bitchinest stall in town takes a break from the sommelier duties to meticulously fix hisself up a motherfuckin’ Durian god damn sandwich (!), y’all. Oh, yes, thee rumours are true: We livin’ it up LARGE here down Mindanao way.
He may be the most laid back gentleman in all of Davao, but disrespect his Durian — as I witnessed four meretricious Chinamen doing this very same afternoon — and he’ll toss your not-so-dimpled ass into the street without even the tiniest pang of remorse. After the incident, steam still billowing visibly from his ears, he related to me that they’d accused him of trading in Durian which had been cut down and trucked to the stall unripe rather than being allowed to ripen on the tree (he and his brother own the farm). So, now you know the one thing to never, ever say to a Durianmeister in Davao…
Anybody within range of this transmission, GET YOUR DIMPLED ASS DOWN HERE. Your mileage may vary, and crap like that, but in my estimation, these Kan Yaos are really holding their own even against Penang’s very finest. They’re not quite at the same level — but they’re awfully close. Interestingly, they’re in flagrant violation of Bao Sheng’s two most important pillars of Durianistic Achievement — freshness and age of tree — but it seems not to matter. I’d be curious to see how they will taste like in ten or fifteen years’ time; Penang might find itself hoisted by its own petard!
Also, Cob variety (eight-pound beast) pictured on the right took almost until nightfall to finish eating. Shit, only two days left in Davao; but no complaints forthcoming from thee Peanut Gallery: Along with Chanthaburi and Penang, this marks three bullseye Durian seasons for me this year, with Borneo still to come. Last days of Babylon, and all…
[Note to moderators: Please ruthlessly excise any and all passages from the following correspondence which reek of sentimentality, sincerity, sappiness, purity, or anything resembling the same. We can’t be having such pointless drivel all up in here…]
Pictured: One final visit to the O.G. Funtimes Durian Shack™.
From my very first day in Egypt — very first hour, in fact — I have been so lucky to find my very same self connecting with the most awesomest, most interestingest, most funnest, most righteousest people a lowly sumbitch such as myself could ever possibly imagine with whom to shoot thee breeze and/or eat thee Durian and/or partake thee adventures around and about. It’s been the case at practically every stop along the trails this year; so much so that I may finally have been cured of my lifelong nostalgia complex: Why feeling apprehension at leaving some good friends behind knowing that still more of them will cross one’s path in the very near future?
Having said that, this Davao vegan community is really something special, to my way of thinking. I’ve got some issues with the city itself — mostly having to do with its motorways’ shite air quality and its all-around pedestrian-unfriendliness — but my admiration for the people who’ve created and sustained their fantastic little niche here knows no bounds.
I’ll tell you what, if any of you human persons whiling out there in Internetland have ever wondered whether Durianism might be right for you, I could offer that…well, like with any religion, the scriptural traditions, the arcane symbolism, the liturgical riddims, the costumery, the hallowed temple halls, and so on and so on — they’re running rampant in the Durian Practices™, too. But, also like in other religions, all that stuff is really just a McGuffin — a proverbial hook upon which to hang one’s wool/knit cap. Nah, the real action is in the meeting and the greeting and the slapping of knees with one’s fellow parishioners. And there ain’t no finer people on thee Planet Fuckin’ Earth to meet your greet with than these goddam Davao True Believers, I can promise you that. Sheeyit, the local Filipino durianists here even speak English ten times better than we-all gringo Americanos can. So come on down give it a try, for fuck’s sake — the water is warm, the Durians are beyond™, and the culture is ten times the shizzle. Can I get a freakin’ “Amen”, or what?
So many thanks for allowing my dimpled ass to float downstream for a few weeks with y’all, y’all — could never even begin to tell you what a thrill it’s been. I’ll miss you lot a helluva lot.