Mountain Mania

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.

October 3:

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.

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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…

God, Nepal is magic. Viva!

October 6:

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?

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October 6:

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.”

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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.

October 8:

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.

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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.

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October 9:

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.

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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.

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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….

October 10:

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.

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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…

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October 14:

Bury…my…dimpled ass…in…Nepal.

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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…

October 17:

[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.

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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)!

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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…)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

October 18:

God dammit, so tempted to spend another day here in Chame. But I can’t spend the whole rest of my life up here (I don’t think). So, a-trekking we will go…

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October 20:

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).

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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??

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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…

October 21:

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!

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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…

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(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…)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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October 22:

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?

October 23:

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).

October 28:

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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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).

A long day; but a most excellent one!

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November 3:

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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…

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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.

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November 3:

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.

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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.

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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.

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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?)

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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…)

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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?

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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.)

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November 22:

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.

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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?

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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?

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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).

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November 25:

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.

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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…

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November 26:

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.

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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.

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November 28:

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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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November 29:

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…

November 30:

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.

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Au Revoir, Nepal; can’t even wait to make your acquaintance again!

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There Will Be Durian

Digested timeline posts from thee too-brief stay in the Philippines.  Hyperlinks are to the individual posts in question, and the full-res photos are available just here.

August 13:

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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.

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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…

September 6:

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.

September 8:

Two brief scenes from thee first day in Fruit City…

Hotel’s Security Guard: Durian?

Me: Yeah.

Guard: [Frantically pawing through my bag, then…] Oh my god.

Me: [Laughing.]

Sheesh, I was only going to drop something off really quick-like; but even that was too much — made me leave it at the entrance and retrieve it again on the way out. Goofnut.

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Old Lady Standing On The Corner: Do you want a [unintelligible]? I haaaave some.

Me: You have what?

Old Lady: [Pointing to nearby stairwell] Giiiiiiirls.

Me: Oh. No, thanks.

Old Lady: Whhhhhhhhhhhhy?

Me: [Laughing.]

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September 9:

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).

September 10:

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!)

September 10:

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…)

September 17:

Island-hoppin’ Talikud styleee. Burnt to a crisp and wiped the fuck out; but, a great day in The Philippines.

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September 18:

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.

September 20:

Durian goals at its finest.

Photo Credit: Jessa Ricamora

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September 21:

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.

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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…

September 22:

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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!

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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…

September 23:

Game/Set/Match, Davao. The picture of thee year, if not the decade. Seriously, Lukasz, you oughta submit this image to a magazine (The Perfume Journal might even run it on the cover, I should think…).

Photo Credit: Lukasz Czelusniak

September 24:

Thee traditional middle-finger send-off. If only you kids knew how fugging cool you are.

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September 25:

[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™.

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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.

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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.


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Penang Digest (AKA Tumble-Dry Only)

There were some changes for the worse since my last visit; I even, for the first few weeks there, began to wonder whether I was over Penang. But, by the time all had been said and done, I found myself even more down-in-thee-mouth than usual at time of departure. That there island is in my fuckin’ blood, it is…

June 22:

It’s June 22nd and there are no Durians in George Town. I knew the season was going to be running late this year, but this is not good. This is very, very not good. This is very, very, very, very, very, very, very not good.

To ease the pain, there could really be only one righteous course of action; viz., wandering around town to the various safety gear shops and taking pictures of their cone arrangements. Well, what would you do?

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June 23:

The thing about this goddam George Town Helmets project is that when I’m NOT out photographing them, I just end up getting more and more pissed off at the motorcycles — they’re loud, they’re smelly, they’re everywhere, their drivers would gleefully run down their own grandmamas were the latter attempting to cross the street, and cetera. But when I’m out snapping them, I couldn’t possibly love them more.

Have now got over 11,000 pics, but far from being bored by them, I’m still constantly amazed and thrilled when I sit down to review the catch at the end of each day. While I do know that nobody loves the George Town helmetry the way I do, what I don’t know is whether any single other person even likes them at all. Well, either way, here are a few of my faves from the first full day of shooting for this year…

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June 25:

Into the mystic.

Will be spending the next week with a few dozen other fanatics at Bao Sheng — aka Durianist Disneyland — under the tutelage of the one/only Durian Seng (whom, if I have anything to say about it, will be the subject of the next Errol Morris picture). Mouth-numbing Durian; sixty-year old trees; tree-to-table in thirty minutes…you know the drill.

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Am a little uncertain of my ability to pace myself — have never even spent two consecutive days gorging here, let alone seven. But it’s a good problem to have, I should think.

Talk at you on the other side (and, no, before-and-after pics of my belly will not be forthcoming)!

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July 1:

The last day at Bao Sheng Durian Farm is the saddest day in thee universe.

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July 2:

An unforgettable week at the Bao Sheng Durian Festival. I knew I was going to feast myself silly on the world’s best Durian; but what I didn’t rightly figure was how unstoppably awesome each and every one of my fellow festival attendees (not to mention the organizers and volunteers) would be. Highlights other than stuffing oneself silly on the world’s best Durian included…

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~ The farm’s irrepressible owner, Mr. Durian Seng. This is the man who, upon his father’s passing twenty-eight years ago, converted the farm to organic practices and undertook the massive financial risk of cutting down all of its Rambutan trees in order to allow more sunlight in to protect the Durian trees from the worms. The risk paid off, and the farm has remained organic to this day — possibly the only location in all of Malaysia, and one of very, very few in the world entire, in which one can walk in (or wake up, if lodging at the farm), sit down, fork over some cash, and be immediately treated to freshly fallen, organically grown Durian. No matter how many times I hear him recount his family’s and the farm’s Durian journey, it never fails to make my heart zing with emotion.

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~ “The Durian Sessions” — as dubbed by one of the Australian attendees who occasionally participated — during which my utterly brilliant British roomates, Sam and Andreas, regaled long into the night discussing conspiracy theories, ghosts, Khao San Road’s psychic Indian holy men and dark-alley ladyboys, false flag terror attacks, Kubrick, Princess Di, rotating jet-black clouds in the shape of Klingon craft, the media, Thai curries, and so much more as well. Good old Andreas was definitely channeling some kind of energy source these nights — it was at times nigh impossible for either Sam or myself to get a word in edgewise. But all for the better, I hasten to add, as he’s one of the two or three most entertaining raconteurs I ever have met — even at three or four o’clock in the AM.

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~ Some very competitively battled chess matches engaged with fellow attendees — my first time participating in on-farm chess since back in Hawaii. Believe me, people, farm chess is just the frickin’ shizzle.

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~ The hike up to the top of Penang Hill right through another of this year’s innumerable torrential downpours. This one, beginning shortly after we set out and not letting up until we’d nearly reached the summit, brought out the leeches as well — I don’t think any of the sixteen participants managed to escape being bitten once or twice. I cheated and wore an umbrella, I ought to confess — but in my defense, there’s almost nothing in this world I hate more than hiking in the rain; and had I known the storm would carry on as long as it did, there’s absolutely zero chance I’d have joined in. But, sometimes, casting one’s lot to fate turns out to be the wiser of choices…

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~ The positive vibes brought by the Scandinavian contingent — nine Swedes and one Dane, I think was the final count — singing songs before each meal, performing gymnastic feats, meeting and greeting with all people, making a point to always converse in English even among each other, winning all the fitness competitions, smiling from ear to ear, and just generally bubbling their way through the entire festival. If these peeps are even remotely representative of the population at large, I’d go live in Sweden in half a goddam heartbeat.

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~ The Tatami Lodge — a new space since my last visit, comprised of two levels of very basic rooms, and a large, open top level used as a gathering/workout/hangout space. Best of all, the rooms feature a commanding view down onto the steep slopes of the farm, as well as being a perfect location from which to watch the night skies’ hours-long lightning shows, and listen for the thwump of falling Durian. (Also best of all: There’s very little night-time mosquito activity right now, which made it practicable to throw the sliding doors wide, ditch the AC, and breathe deep the Durianic air.)

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~ The wonderfully charming characters serving as tour guides at the nearby Penang Tropical Fruit Farm — home to more than 300 species. The guides with whom we toured during the two visits — Ali and Roy — spoke exquisitely elocuted and accented British English, and were each fountains of knowledge and trivia. One interesting tidbit of which I’d certainly not been expecting to hear: Each evening at 5:00 in the PM, the farm releases the hounds to protect the perimeter against the band of monkeys lurking just beyond. Were it not thus, the monkeys would eat up all of the farm’s fruit in very short order.

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Needless to say, that’s just a scratching of the surface. I feel very humbled to have shared this fleeting moment with these loveliest of people…can’t wait to do it again next year!

July 10:

Fuckin’ BEAST MODE Penang. I et the one on the left, as its aroma was like almost none other. It was very good, though not quite living up to my olfactory expectations. Weighing in at just over four kilos, a Durian this size wouldn’t even elicit so much as a raised eyebrow in Thailand; but here in Penang, it’s most atypical.

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The season began very late — and the fruits are selling for about three times the normal price — on account of some very naughty rains which arrived right as the tress’d all flowered, back in February, and destroyed around 80% of the crop.

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Those that survived have been delicious — but, alas, I can only afford to eat one per day. [Sigh] Welcome to the new, climate-change-driven, normal…

July 10:

Some more recent highlights from thee City Of Helmets… 

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“Durian In Black” — that’s the term used at Bao Sheng’s to describe the blue-black discoloration in the flesh one sees in the specimen pictured here on thee left. It’s a sign of a very old tree; and, what’s more, a clue that a mouth-numbing experience awaits. And this one delivered as promised. Over the years, I’ve eaten a dozen or so numbing Durians at Bao Sheng, but I believe this was only the second I’ve tasted away from the farm.

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A Durian like that could easily be the highlight of one’s gustatory week — but I’m not even sure it was my favourite of the day. For, this unassuming looking fruit on the right here turned out to be of the type I’ve come to term “Outer Space Durians” — those few that deliver a barrage of flavour, texture, and aroma so indescribable, so stupefyingly mind-turning, so avant-garde as to alter one’s consciousness for a good ninety minutes or more: Spinning head, aimless wandering, karma daze, incoherent babbling, existential time-crisis, the whole nine yards.

So (says I), the Penang Durian season has officially hit its stride. Dunno how long its peak will even last — maybe only a couple of weeks. But even in this sorriest of seasons in many a decade, we find that those flowers which did survive February’s killing rains, and live on to complete the propagation ritual, thereafter received maximum TLC from their trees such that the quality seems to be even better this year than usual. Though I can only afford to eat of a couple per day, every last one I’ve tried since returning from the farm has been the picture of magnificence (or very close to).

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I may need to consider upping my budget limit, however: My favourite grower in the city — a husband and wife team whom had initially estimated they would begin selling some time in August — to-day informed me that they will have Durian “very soon”…and also that it will be “very expensive”. I won’t shell out for sub-par Durian — no way, no how. But for Durian from trees whose produce has exploded my gourd many times before now, and in a year in which the quality on the island is already to the utmost…well, who needs money in their account when they’ve got Penang, ain’t it?

Older British gentleman staying at my hotel related to me an ordeal he suffered on the day of his arrival, knocking himself silly when smashing his head upon one of George Town’s notorious too-low archways and opening up a gaping wound. Pretty interesting story, in fact — involving Chinese waitresses, rickshaw drivers, mean doctors, nice doctors, lots of bleeding blood, and cetera.

I was especially chuffed to note his frequent use of the word “poleaxed” to describe the event. It’s a word one doesn’t hear much, if at all, any more — especially in this context. I bid it makes a comeback. And that comeback begins with you, I daresay. Please try to use the word in a sentence whenever applicable; let’s get a goddam groundswell going here…

July 14:

When it’s Durian season in Penang, every morning is like Christmas morning. And that means, of course, that every night is like Christmas Eve: Giddy anticipation / impossible even to doze as time slows to a crawl, wondering-imagining what new gifts will turn up under the tree(s) come morningtime / fever-dreaming oneself into thee paroxysmal lather…

Ho ho ho (as the man did say) — here’s to another sleepless night, Penang style!

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July 15:

Oh snap, a Chinaman at the house next door to my hotel just blew off exactly 9,000 firecrackers (yes, I kept track). Not that Chinamen ever really need an excuse to set off fireworks, but, I sense a festival is in the offing…

July 16:

In Penang Malyasia, helmet uses you!

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July 17:

Am beginning to wonder if I’m being pranked, or something — this is now the third time, over the years, seeing a local person here in Penang wearing a Huskies t-shirt.

The first two were on foot, so I was able to approach them and excitedly explain that that was my alma mater they were proselytizing. But they each looked at me like as though I’d just arrived from Planet Almondinger with a bag full of dried turds. After some further explication, they just kind of shrugged their shoulders and moved on, without even so much as a smile.

That’s weird, right? I think it’s fuckin’ weird.

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July 24:

Just another day on the island. I don’t think these two were actually fixing to get hitched — but in Penang, one can never quite be sure…

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July 25:

Freshly fallen old-tree Ochee (AKA Black Thorn) from my second-favourite orchard in the Cosmos. I think my accountant had a stroke, but…if you have to ask, ain’t it?

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July 26:

Mark it: July 26, ’17. Probably going to end up being my favourite Durian of the year — and from a grower with whom I’ve previously had very little truck, no less. Curiouser and curiouser…

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July 31:

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No matter how many times the very same fate has befallen my dimpled ass, it’s always more than a little shocking the rapidity with which the season grinds to a halt here. Just four days ago I was eating unimpeachably spectacular fruits of both named and Kampung variety, dreaming that the Durian Summer could last forever. And now, here we see — in all its starkness — the chimera that those heady days represented: The last and final numbers from my Carnarvon homie.

Though his trees are not the most consistent on the island, and though there be some whose highs are undoubtedly greater, his orchard takes a back seat to nobody when it comes to producing inconceivably outre flavours and textures. Over the years, I’ve et far more of his Durians than any other grower’s; and, sure, I’ve had to chuck a few of them into the ocean — but, oh, when they hit the mark, your head spins ’round and ’round and then ’round some more.

Your humble narrator couldn’t ever have asked for a better Durian to end the season with than this behemoth D15 on the right here. A full eight hours after the fact, my mouth is still reeling from its effects, and there’s a possibility it may have permanently altered my neural pathways (I suppose I will know more about this come daybreak). Fuckin’-A (as we say in the States), that was a stone-cold, howling-ass wallop; won’t soon be forgotten.

A couple of end-of-season anecdotes, if I may.

First off, was just yesterday sitting and eating some good stuff in the park, when an older gentleman, Penang born and bred, appeared and sat beside me to talk for a while about both Durian and hiking. (Penangites love to talk about Durian…) After some time, he handed his phone to a passerby, instructing him to take a picture of the two of us whilst reasoning, “You don’t see this very often: White man eating Durian.”

“White Man Eating Durian” — I could never dream of a better epitaph than that!!

Secondly, there’s this Palestinian guy who sells “Palestine Pudding” out of a styrofoam cooler up at the Esplanade every evening. As often as not, he stops to chat with me for a while, as I sit watching the sun set over the sea eating a Watermelon or drinking some Coconuts. After nearly a month’s doing, he finally just the other day up and asked me, “What exactly are you doing here, anyway?” I explained to him about the sorrows of Durian addiction and blah blah, and he asked me to bring him some, as he’d not ever indulged.

Which, I did tonight honour his request. Appreciative though he was, he determined that it was not for him. So, I instead took the remainder of the small fruit over to a couple of guys — one older, one younger — who’d earlier taken a break from their lazing under a tree to give me a bit of a good-natured razz, trying to get me to give my Coconut to them. They were none too put off when I demurred, but nevertheless eagerly accepted my Durianic offering, the older gent announcing that in all his live-long days, he’d never been gifted a Durian before.

“In America,” he then continued, “thirty-seven thousand people die every year…because of a fart,” while making a, like, emanation motion from his bunghole. “You don’t believe me, do you?”

After thinking about it for some moments, I responded, “I believe you!” Which response generated a much bigger laugh than I’d expected. He said he couldn’t prove it, because he didn’t any longer have the evidence to hand; but that he’d read it in the paper years before. And with that, the 2017 Penang Durian season is a wrap.

Except…we can’t end it just yet, as my friend Lindsay Gasik is throwing, in just a few days’ time, a old-fashioned eat-‘n’-greet paparazzi party to celebrate the release of her spanking-new book-length love poem to the Penang Durian. I, myself, shall expect to read it cover to cover that very same night. Only then can we put this season officially to bed. It was a very expensive one — but also a very great one.

Oh, Penang, but where does thee time go?

August 2:

White man STILL eating Durian! After two or three days’ absence, I figured they were done for the year; but lo, there were a few more Kim Hu (Goldfish) winners on Mr. Tan’s table this very same AM.

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While this one didn’t quite poleaxe my dimpled ass the way its cousins were doing last week (or the way that D15 did day-before-yester), it nevertheless served as a potent reminder that Penang Durianism IS still possible in the month of August — three years ago, I’m now recalling, I et a great one as late as August the 10th. Well, I’ve still a few more days in town; let’s see if I can end up melting down my debit card once and for all.

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And for those who may find themselves wondering what is thee next measure after consuming five kilos’ worth of Penang-quality Durian, well, I’ll tell you: Thee next measure is lying down on one’s backside, gawking the trees and the clouds for minutes or months or millennia, and trying to unlock the Durians’ teachings. Who can accomplish *that* will, in all likelihood, be crowned the next Buddha…

August 3:

WE decide which is right…and which IS an illusion.

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August 5:

“Before They Pass Away” — photographer Jimmy Nelson’s completely beguiling survey of worldwide tribal cultures, on display here during George Town Festival’s monthlong run — is quite simply the most stunning series of images upon which I have ever set my eyes.

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The otherwordly nature of the subjects combined with the ultra-large-formats of the prints (some measuring in at a good six feet by three feet) have on two separate visits left me well and truly agog. My snaps here can give a bit of a flavour, but these photos MUST be seen in person to be believed. (Factually, even *then* you won’t believe them.)

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I wouldn’t say that I’d recommend it more highly than a screening of Ran or Lawrence Of Arabia; but it’s otherwise difficult to think of anything I’d be more eager to encourage a human person to take his/her dimpled ass out to go and see. Should this installation set up shop in your town: Run, don’t walk.

Oh, and before you ask — yes, I WILL be making myself one of them moss dunce caps. Maybe not to-day; maybe not tomorrow; but, believe me, it’s gonna happen…

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August 8:

Any questions? The young youth seen here flopping about like a hepped-up wriggly worm and pounding his or her (I could never figure out whether he or she was a he or a she) tambourine into the sidewalk like as if it were John Henry’s big sledge hammer was also yelping and howling just like at a goddam revivalist meetup. Well, born a hippie will always be, I suppose.

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August 14:

Lest one thought it was only thee motorcyclists, serves as proof that George Town’s bicyclists are exceptionally fashionable as well.

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Bonus! Bonus! Bonus! KL content:

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Thailand Digest

A few words from the month in Thailand.  All pics are online at thee Flickr page.

May 24:

One never quite appreciates the majesty of awnings so much as when in Thailand. May not look it in the video, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a squall as intense as this one. And it stayed at or very near peak intensity for a looooong time, too — like thirty minutes or more, I’d guess. Welcome back in Bangkok!

May 25:

If I would have been told that I would arrive in Bangkok and something would shock me totally by bringing me an unbelievable joyment, I would surely have guessed that it would be at the ping-pong show. But no!, it’s in fact the A quality phone talk and the devices entertainment found in these delightfully hued s tereo earbuds — and for only 199 Thai Baht, no less. Shall the wonders ever cease?

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May 30 – June 11:

Chanthaburi, Thailand.  Where weird reigns, and Durian is truly king of all it surveys.

June 17:

Oof, my flattened ass is in open rebellion after having been made to endure yet another interminable third-class passage aboard the Thai railways. Every time, I wonder to myself how many more of these I can take. But, it’s gonna have to be at least one, as I’ve already purchased a ticket for the longest route in the entire system, departing in two days’ time. Masochism ? us…

Am here in Bangkok following a brief-but-mirthful trip up to Isan (the collective name given to Thailand’s northeastern provinces, near to the Lao and Cambodian frontiers; it’s famous for, among other things, its extremely spicy cuisine) to visit a friend; happy to report that Thailand has not lost its propensity to dazzle and delight, while, moreover, the remarkable Thai hospitality — about which, one will no doubt recall, I have heretofore spoken with great frequency and in the most glowing of terms — is, ever still, fully in its swing. Highlights of the jam-packed three-day itinerary included…

~ Calling in to four different English language classrooms at three different schools to chat up the eager students who, living in the countryside as they do, have rarely if ever had an opportunity to converse with a native English speaker. One of the stops, you can see, coincided with the school’s weekly “Scout Day”. I never laid witness to the setting of any bear traps; but did, at the least, put in a recess-time stint between the playfield pipes, as the students took it in turns to drill my (then) dimpled ass with a never-ending stream of shots on goal — including from the girls, by the way, one of whose excellently struck ball not only found the back corner of the net, but also just may have been the shot of the day.

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~ A crash course covering the intricacies of the twice-monthly Thai lottery. It so happens, I now have learnt, that any held ticket matching the last three digits with one of the two winning combinations for the three-digit category pockets a cool 4,000 Thai Baht (that translates to about 120 greenback smackers, if you wondered). I hadn’t known of the existence of this three-digit option. But, alack!, ALL of the vendors with whom we checked — they’re visible by the dozens, in constant patrol over every square metre of Thaispace, housing their tickets for sale in fashionable little briefcases emblazoned, for good luck, with the likenesses of known monks — had already sold out of tickets ending in my beloved 666 (“Hok-Hok-Hok,” when you’re speaking Thai). Damn and blast! All I’ve got to say is the fricking constabulary (as so, according to one vendor, the responsible parties were) had better stop buying up all the tickets with MY number on them…if’n they wanna know what’s good for their general goddam welfare, that is. Thinking on his feet, one entrepeneuring vendor tried his god damn darnedest to sell me a 999, arguing that, turned upside-down, it would be just as good as a 666 — but I was having not a whit of that shaky-arsed logic.

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~ A nice, weeklong breather betwixt the all-out Mango gluttonism of the month just past and the all-out Durian gluttonism of the month about to come, compliment many meals’ worth of very consistently high-quality Watermelons procured at absolutely dirt-cheap prices.

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~ A gorgeously scenic and wonderfully serene rowboat cruise in amongst the assembled floating fishing rigs and all (the fisherfolk spend the night in those little tin huts, and sell their catch next morning in the ad hoc fish market set up onshore), whilst being lorded over by cloud formations as impressive as any I’ve seen outside of western goddam Montana. Please be informed (if you’re now planning to drop all and come a-running here to take up thee fisherfolk lifestyle) that, by writ, fishing activities are limited to the hours of 6:00pm to 6:00am daily.

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~ Receiving roughly ten different sets of directions from roughly ten different neighbourhood dwellers, but eventually triangulating our way, for a look-see, to a little 200-tree Durian orchard — Durian trees are a most atypical sight for this area — so new they’ve not even begun selling the fruits yet (this year will be the first). The dickens ain’t got nothin’ on the supercuteness of these heavenly bodies!

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~ Spotting stuff-strutting peacocks and wicked beautiful foliage about the woodland grounds of the wonderful community temple pictured here. Unfortunately, the pics decidedly do not do this space justice — though its size is bordering on the gargantuan, its decor is much more elegant and restrained than one would normally expect to find in a temple of this size; while the atmosphere honestly comes very close to matching the je ne sais quoi spiritual eminence I’ve found in but a select few of Chiang Mai’s most hallowed chapels. Possibly this is owing to the lumber used in the construction — this was, I’m told, obtained from the dredging up of trees flooded under many decades prior with the completion of the local cement dam. Consequently, the boards here are much larger than what could otherwise have been found in the area for many, many a moon.

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~ Catching up with the latest town gossip. The most hi-larious development is that two brothers have opened identical shoppes selling convenience items, lottery tickets (natch), and funeral services — and sited them right next to each other! The vagaries of commerce being what they are, the brothers are not currently on speaking terms. Well, blood may be thicker than water, but it apparently still cannot quench the mad lust ensuing from single-minded pursuit of monetary gain. These two could stand to take in a screening of The Devil And Daniel Webster, methinks!

…and many else besides. But, as this correspondence has already grown far too unwieldy for use in polite society, I’ll, for to-day, dispense with the pleasantries and simply declare: Rocka rolla Thailand, how much I do love you so.

Next stop: Penang (oh yes, thy WILL be done)…

June 17:

Oy, I think thee thermometer repair fella (or gal) is going to have a windfall<>bonanza kind of day tomorrow after the scorching doled out to-day here in the world’s hottest city. (And somehow it feels even hotter at nighttime.) It’s one of those cold-shower-before-bed-even-though-the-dorm’s-A/C-is-running kind of nights.

I might drink twenty of these tomorrow. At minimum, it’ll be fifteen.

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June 18:

Here’s a tip for the next time you’re traveling in Thailand. You won’t see it often (at least I have not), but any time you DO see Dragonfruits priced at only 20 Baht to the kilo and looking all scummy and nasty and like they’re gonna die and everything, you don’t wait, you don’t pass Go, you don’t make a note to come back and get some later — you BUY them, toute de suite!

For, much as is the case with Papayas, the scummier and rattier and nastier they look on the outside, the sweeter and softer and more delicious they’ll taste on the inside.

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June 18:

Who knew there was a goddam Mangrove forest right in the heart of BKK? Definitely not me!

Having secured only about 30-44 minutes’ worth of sleep on the train from Udon Thani, I figured I’d have a lazy, relaxing day to recover and to begin to steel myself for the impending eighteen-hour trip to Hat Yai. But, somehow, there is no such thing as a “lazy, relaxing day” in Bangkok — the city’s heartbeat sends notions pulsing into your skull; one thing leads to another; and before you know it, you’ve logged another dozen miles on your pedometer.

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What it was, I suddenly got the notion that I would rather like to take the river taxi up to the Grand Palace area than to take the bus; and looking to see whether there were any piers near the hostel, noticed that there was, at least, a ferry pier, and that right there close was a park I’d never heard of before. On the map, it looked like any other Thai park, with a big water feature in the middle, some grass, a running track, and probably some exercise equipment, and so forth. It wasn’t in the direction of the Grand Palace, but, what thee Hell?, the ferryboat would be fun, and one could sit in the shade and drink some Coconuts. Plus, it looked like there were a bunch of hiking trails in the area around the park. Everybody wins, ain’t it?

So I schlepped my dimpled ass over there, only to find that the “park” was actually the aforesaid (and very pleasing indeed) Mangrove forest, and the “hiking trails” were actually miles and miles of criss-crossing concrete boardwalk. Turns out, it’s rather a popular activity to rent oneself a bicycle at the ferry landing and while away the hours tooling around beneath the canopy. Right here in Bangkok!

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According to the signage, the recently-deceased King, in 1977, extolled their virtues; and every since that moment it’s been trees-a-go-go all throughout Thailand. The present forest, too — “Bang Kachao”, it’s called — was begun at that time.

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After a few hours’ tooling around on foot, I had another look at the map, and figured out that I could take the boardwalk all the way to a different ferry pier, cross the river again, and be within spitting distance of the Museum Of Counterfeit Goods. Now, I’d thought that I’d visited every one of Bangkok’s little specialty museums — the stamps, the dolls, the cameras, the butterflies, the pottery, the trains, the longboats, the knickknacks, and on and on — but I’d never even heard of the Museum Of Counterfeit Goods, let alone having visited. Ooh, this was gonna be fun.

So I schlepped my dimpled ass back across the river, to the location of the building, and down an alley where it looked like the entrance must be. But the only sign of life down there was a guy making some weird-looking furniture. I tried to prove to him with the map that this space was supposed to be counterfeit goods, not weird furniture. But he didn’t know what the Hell I was on about, so he went into an adjacent office and retrieved three ladies who would. (One great thing about Thai people, among many, is that whenever they don’t know what the Hell you’re on about, they’ll scamper off somewhere and return in short order with an English-speaking compatriot or three.)

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After some time scrutinising the map, the ladies agreed that I’d stumbled myself into a straight-up conundrum.

Around the corner, then, I stopped at a little outdoor restaurant and solicited the help of the proprietor. She didn’t know what the Hell I was on about, but pointed me to one of the tables, where sat a young lady looking like she was approximately eight months three weeks six days and twenty-three hours pregnant. She snatched the phone out of my hand and began zooming in and out on the location. After about fifteen or twenty zooms, she bade me hang tight and loped into the salon (or whatever) that was right next to the restaurant. Surprisingly nimble, come to think of it, considering how pregnant she was.

After a while she came back, returned my phone to me, and indicated that I may as well go back whence I’d come, as I would not be finding any Museum Of Counterfeit Goods in this neighbourhood — to-day or ever. She may have been right about that one, but, what I did find in the neighbourhood was some pretty awesome street art.

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Was it as awesome as the museum would have been? Perhaps not. But, operating on the assumption that everything happens for a reason, I guess we can deduce that the reason some goofnut entered the Museum Of Counterfeit Goods at this location into OSM’s database was so that I and others would be led to that area in search of same, and end up appreciating the street art instead.

Huhn, it just occurred to me that the person who finagled the phantom museum onto the map must be none other that the graffiti artist hisself! Or herself. I think I just solved this fucking conundrum right now! I did eventually get the river taxi up to the Grand Palace, but by the time I’d arrived, it had already closed.

Just call me…down-but-not-out in Bangkok town.

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p.s. Which would you rather name your band — “Assembly Point” (logo included) or “Assembly Of Beautiful Fish”? Either way, you can’t go wrong!

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June 19:

Just checked out of De-Talak Hostel for possibly the last time, as new regulations may soon force its closure. It’s almost impossible to imagine arriving in Bangkok and not staying here; but, there it is, kids: Best appreciate the good times while you can, ’cause nothing in this world is permanent. Seems like I’ve been learning that lesson a lot of late…

No words could ever adequately express my admiration, Rata Chaipatikul. You made the best place ever.

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June 20:

It’s a looooong way riding the rails on Thailand’s southern line. But the benefit with such a long overnighter is that you get some hours of daylight at both the beginning and the end of the trip to take in the terrifically gorgeous countryside. Plus, it’s usually a lot less crowded than the northern lines, so one has the opportunity to stretch out and get some sleep.

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And whoso arrives here in Songkhla province (which includes both the cities of Songkhla and Hat Yai), will find perhaps the friendliest people in all of Thailand.

I’ve told before of the lady whom, having seen me walking barefoot down the street in the middle of the day, pulled up on her motorcycle intending to gift me a pair of flip-flops and a bottle of water; and of the lady who insisted on giving me a ride into town rather than letting me walk the few miles; and the mother and daughter who, thinking me lost, pulled over their station wagon and, with great concern, told me, “We want to help you”; and of the streetside vendors who went into DEFCON status in order to find somebody to explain to me in English why the floating market was not at that time operating.

And now, to-day, fresh off the train, I was walking barefoot through the clock tower plaza area drinking a Coconut, and heard somebody screaming, “You! You! You! You!” I turned in time to find the gentleman scurrying to grab a pair of flip-flops from under a bench to give to me.

Don’t get me wrong: The wayward farang will encounter this type of friendliness in all reaches of Thailand. It just seems a little, tiny bit more forthcoming down here in the southern reaches. (Walk down the street barefoot in Cambodia, by way of contrast, and you’ll get 9,000 people offering to sell you a pair of flip-flops. I love Cambodian people, but…Thai people definitely go that extra mile.)

Yep, departing Thailand is always a sad occasion.

June 20:

Aaaand boom goes the dyn-o-mite. The great good number was not on display, so the vendor had to procure it from a special locked drawer in the vending desk. But, procure it she did; and I am now down with the sound for the next drawing. Don’t forget to tune in July 1st to see how I did!

I told the lady staffing my guest house that if it turns out to be a winning ticket I would come back and share the prize with her. (I had earlier been trying to ascertain from her thee nearest place to purchase a lottery ticket, but with her limited English, she had thought I was looking for somewhere to do my laundry. …For which, considering the state of my wardrobe these days, I could hardly blame her.)

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Sri Lanka Digest

As per thee usual, my dimpled-yet-lazy dimpled ass elected, this last month, to pass updates on to the timeline rather that sitting down to compose any actual essays. The hyperlinks are to the specific timeline post in question, where there will be lots more pictures than those excerpted below.  For those interested, all my pics from Sri Lanka may be discovered at my Flickr page:

April 18:

Got a Chinese hostel-mate name of “Jackson”. I am pretty strongly of the opinion that my having come into possession of this information, and having in turn passed it on to you-all, marks the completion (I would personally say with smashing success, but your mileage might vary) of my spirit journey.

 April 26:

(Shortly) before the storm.

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May 1:

Were it simply a matter of loving the scenery, Sri Lanka would be almost without peer as a travel destination. From the spectacular and thrilling mountainous jungle vistas of the hill country to the, well, spectacular and thrilling vistas of the Indian Ocean down at sea level, it’s all so gorgeous, it almost hurts to look at it. (Here in Sri Lanka, at any rate, the phrase “achingly beautiful” is not just metaphor!) On top of which, Sri Lankan people — both in city and town — are quite friendly and always eager to help out a wayward foreigner.

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Alas, it’s not all sweetness and light, however. The quality of the fruit is, shockingly, quite shit. The Coconuts, Bananas, and Papayas are decent enough; but the Watermelons, Mangos, and Avocados: Shit, shit, and more shit. I don’t pretend to understand it, but them’s the facts. Further, the traffic and noise pollution are nearly unbearable; while Sri Lankans are as addicted to plastic (and especially the burning of plastic) as everyone else. And also, mosquito time is a good thirteen hours per day here — a real pain in the ass.

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On balance, I’m still not sure thumbs up or down — have got two more weeks’ time to figure that one out…

 May 2:

I may or may not be fixing to spend the remainder of my born days here in Haputhale.

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Okay, truthfully, I can’t. Though this may be the most insanely wonderfully beautiful hike ever have I taken, it’s nevertheless the same bugaboo about which I was bitching and moaning the other day: Lousy fruit and too-loud tuk-tuks. Adding insult to injury, my dimpled ass got rained upon like none other walking back to the hostel (“Holiday Home”, as it’s called here) with my lousy fruit I’d gone into town to fetch.

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NEVERTHELESS, can’t wait to try this hike again on thee morrow…

May 3:

Hold the, I say, hold thee muthafuckin’ phone: I’m actually finding some good fruit all up in here. Et a quite decent, if unremarkable Watermelon; a mighty fine Soursop; some excellent Mangosteens (which smashed my bank account in half — but, hey, it’s frickin’ Mangosteen!); and even a good Avo — the first I’ve encountered since arriving Sri Lanka. The first pic here is from my roadside lunch sit…

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May 5:

Didja ever feel like overflowing, with tears of unbridled joy, the Pacific Goddam Ocean…solely because you know a certain place exists? That’s how your humble narrator here feels about O little town of Haputhale.

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Though, I did make a little half-day-trip of the morning: Got the bus up to Badulla, the eastern terminus of the Hill Country rail line, and rode the rails back to Haputhale. This stretch is reputed to be the World’s most beautiful. And, indeed, pretty it was. However: a) The bus ride out to Badulla was every bit as scenic; b) Thailand’s Southern line — especially the stretch between Nakhon Si Thammarat and Hat Yai — beats this like a red-headed stepchild; c) Simply hiking around Haputhale is a far more satisfying experience, as I learnt yet again this after when discovering another stupendous trail — at which time, the aforesaid weeping re-commenced in earnest.

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Oh, and ever did I neglect to report…no mosquitoes in Haputhale! Leastways, not at this time of thee year. Even after torrential evening monsoon rains followed by hot/sunny days, it’s still too cool at night for the little fuckers’ comfort.

Haputhale, thy name is legend!

May 5:

The owner of my hostel just walked in with a fuckin’ disco ball which also jams out Sri Lankan dance music. Top that (if you can)!

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May 5:

Made this pic with Snapseed’s new multiple exposure feature — have included the two originals for reference. You can see I didn’t get ’em lined up perfectly. Still, pretty neat…

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May 7:

This was from a few days ago — extended Internetlessness in Haputhale delayed its posting ’til now…

Am trying to take fewer pics, and to simply enjoy the magic of each day in this place. It’s a difficult skill for me to master!

Took some country roads out to Diyatalawa, the next town over, then back to Haputhale along the railroad tracks. The return trip was rock and roll all over — so awesome walking along the tracks, where no tuk-tuks ever go!

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This was actually my first visit to a Sri Lankan temple — the presiding authority, nearly as I could make out, was a nine-year-old boy speaking impeccable British English. He was a bit distressed when he couldn’t get the blinking lights to work on this one shrine he was trying to show me (“Do you want to watch it?” he had asked, more amiably than you could possibly imagine, after explaining to me what lay behind the locked door in front of which we were standing), but was otherwise the most gracious host you ever did see. He had his own personal tuk-tuk driver, and everything — they later offered me a ride into Diyatalawa when they passed me on the way. I declined, but appreciated the hospitality, for sure.

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You mark my fuckin’ words: That little snot-nosed kid is going to get Monk Of The Year before it’s all said and done — if not Monk Of The Decade

May 8:

Me, I pay homage to the Ang He Durian, which is on the Bao Sheng Farm, which is on the island of Penang, which is in the country of Malaysia. But then, I guess we’ve all got our separate idiosyncrasies, haven’t we?

May 8:

Getting ready to head back to the lowlands for Lord Buddha’s birthday jam — but not before having taking part in a couple of strenuous hill-climbs featuring tasty views at the top.

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The first, back in Haputhale, up to Lipton’s Seat, the site where Thomas J. Lipton sat and pondered his next and newest bravura blah blah blah (it’s all in the enclosed sign). You get a bus from town about halfway up, then make the five-mile trek each way from there — actually, I was walking almost exclusively alongside plantation workers heading to their stations: Most of the tourists seem to get a tuk-tuk all the way up, or one of the infrequent mini-buses. But, come on, one shouldn’t be allowed to see the scenery without putting in the goddam effort, ain’t it? It’s a pretty walk up, through the tea plantation and all; not too much traffic; and the view is as advertised. You could spend an hour up there if you spent a moment — and one especially cool feature is it’s ever-changing: At one point completely enshrouded in mist, with basically zero visibility at all, and then twenty or thirty minutes later almost totally clear…for the cycle to then begin all over again.

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Next on the agenda, following the uber-lovely train passage to Hatton, and then a bus down here to Dalhousie, was the hike up the infamous 5,400 stone-step stairway to the top of Sri Pada, the most sacred pilgrimage site on the island. Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, and hippies all claim the mountain as hallowed ground. I’d begun hearing about the hike almost before I even landed in Colombo. Basically, from the moment I’d checked in to the hostel, everyone set upon me imploring me to make the trek. One Australian girl said it was the best thing she’d done in her life; and one American gent couldn’t wait to show me his pictures of the triangle (see below).

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You’re supposed to drag your dimpled ass out of bed at 2:30 in the AM in order to make the summit by sunrise. And one MUST make the top by sunrise (I’ve learnt over and yet over again) because…well, I don’t know why the religious knuckleheads feel the need; something to do with Purifying The Soul™, presumably. But for the hippies, the life-altering event (seriously, I’ve lost count of the number of people who’ve told me so) is the appearance, shortly after sunrise, of a shadow in the shape of a (wait for it)…yes, of a triangle.

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“Ooookay,” I’ve been thinking for now three weeks’ time, “that’s it?” I mean, if it were in the shape of fuckin’ Ernest Borgnine, natch I’d be there with bells on. But, a triangle? I can give it a miss, I’d been thinking for those same three weeks’ time. Really, I just wanted to be able say I’ve clumb the 5,400 steps; there’s no way the views would be superior to what I’ve seen in Nepal — or even Haputhale. I had been thinking to set out at 5:00 or so, but at some point it occurred to me that I could go up at sunset instead, come back down by nine or ten o’clock, get a full night’s sleep, and spend the following day doing some day-hikes around the area. The only thing I wasn’t sure about was, would it be raining in the afternoon?

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So I arrived here to Dalhousie, checked in to the guest house, and asked the manager whether such an endeavour would be possible. Sure thing, he said — there wouldn’t even be any crowds at that time (on weekends, there are so many people up there, it takes something like five hours to move the last coupla hundred metres up to the temple — but they all come down after sunrise). Would it be raining, though, I wondered? Only a few drops, perhaps, he assured me; and said I could borrow a raincoat, so long as I promised to return it. The perfect crime!

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I was even happier after speaking, just by chance, with a German hostel-mate who’d arrived in a group of ten the previous night. He and one other had been thinking along the same lines as myself, and he said that it was similarly cloudy when they set out, but that they didn’t get rained on and the views were quite nice. I excitedly rushed into my room, threw some shit into my daypack, pranced outside, and…it was raining like a motherfucker. And continued to rain like a motherfucker — with some few brief slack periods — well into the evening.

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Well (as Chuck Knox always used to sagaciously remind us), we’ve gotta play the hand we’re dealt. Anyway, the hostel’s garden area was a nice place from which to watch the thunderstorming — and there were even some goddam fireflies about. Looking back now, I do think sunrise is the better time to go up, because you’re climbing when it’s nice and cool, then descending when it’s nice and warm, rather than the other way around. I got here just in the nick of time, too: After to-day, there are only two more days in the pilgrimage season (which coincides with the dry season). One can, I believe, still make the hike after that — but the temple is closed, there are no services, and the path is not lighted.

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So, 2:30 it was. The hostel’s owner, whom has been up the hill 1,500 times, gave us a little informational pep talk the night before; told us we were in luck going on a Monday, as it would be far less crowded; and said that if one gives oneself to the mountain, and to the jungle, then, something would happen to you. Nice words (really, I mean it) — but the circus atmosphere makes such a pursuit totally impossible. Shoppes are lining the path, selling not only food and beverage, but also plastic trinket crap, and even (I shit you not) loads and loads of stuffed animals. And there’s music, and shitloads of people going up and down; the whole nine yards. Kinda kills that particular mood, don’t it?

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The timing for the hike was listed about the same as the Lipton’s Seat hike, so I figured it would be roughly as difficult. Heh, I figured very, very wrong. This one was extremely difficult — mostly, I suppose, because the stairs are for the most part the same height as two normally-proportioned stairs. And every time you look up, the peak seems to be getting further and further away. I was kind of getting down on myself for struggling so much, but then began to realise that I was passing locals like as though they were standing still. So, despite all the huffing and puffing, I actually did make good time.

The sunrise was very pretty, of course; but it wasn’t such an enjoyable time. Despite there were far fewer people than on weekends, there were still tonnes of them, and loud temple music, and artificial lights, and temple structures and fencing obscuring the view, and so on. Worst of all: Babies screaming their guts out. I seen a very great many babes-in-arms being carried both up and down the hill, so I certainly rate those parents as hard-core. But, Christ, give ’em some nectar, or a tin of sardines…or at least a carton of Whoppers, for fuck’s sake. Anything to shut them the Hell up for a while. I do like being in crowds of people at times — concerts, or sporting events, or what have you. But for Nature Experiences™ (gotta admit it), I much prefer being alone.

Yes, after sunrise, the shadow did appear. No, it was not in the shape of Ernest Borgnine — nor even Dustin Hoffman. Yes, it was as stupid and/or lame as expected. I dunno; if triangles are your bag, you can take it from me: The Egyptian variety are FAR more interesting that the Sri Lankan.

There was a bunch of religious bullshit going on for an hour or so, but after that, the crowds started to thin, and one could walk around and enjoy the view more easily. And what a view it was! Was seeing that view the best thing I’ve ever done in my life? Not even close — any single day trekking in Nepal, to take only one example, beats this experience senseless. But it was very definitely worth the effort expended. And now I can say I’ve clumb the 5,400 steps of Sri Pada.

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I shared the walk down with a twenty-five-year-old Colomboite. Very nice fellow. He explained to me some angles concerning the trek that I otherwise would not have understood, and stuff like that. It was his seventh time making the pilgrimage, by five different routes (I’d only known of two, but apparently there are at least five). This time, he and a friend (who was still up the mountain suffering from cramps) had taken the Forest Route™ up to the top. Their plan was to camp out in a little-known cave overnight, before making the ascent this morning. Unfortunately, they got caught out in the rain for many an hour before arriving to the cave, shivering their asses off all the whole while.

We got to talking about leeches for some time — he said he’d had a hundred of them on him during the forest portion of the trek; and proceeded to tell me of all the ways, during his live-long life, he’d tried (and failed) to kill them. One time, he’d even squeezed one of them until his blood burst out, and he was sure it was dead, but then came to find out it was still alive. “That’s when I realised,” he declared, “that leeches are immortal.”

Back at the hostel, I almost had a pretty bad conniption when I thought I’d lost my all-time-righteous stocking cap that I purchased in Kathmandu three years back — but then it turned out I’d already packed it somewhere where I don’t normally pack it. Fuck, I’d hate to lose that hat!

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By the way, I should perhaps explain exactly what it means, up here in Hill Country, when I say I “got the bus” from Point A to Point B. Basically, every mile of road up here is fitted out with (approximately) nine trillion hairpin turns. The cliffs are extremely sheer, and the roads extremely narrow — essentially, they’re one-lane roads, though of course full-size and oversize vehicles are at all moments careening up and down in both directions. I think the bus drivers must get paid by the careen, in fact: They’re complete and total maniacs — talented ones at that. (I’ll give the locals this much, though: I’ve never seen a one, as is so common in mountain bus rides in Thailand and Laos, heaving their lunches into little plastic bags and then tossing them out the window. Sri Lankans really are made of pretty stout stuff…) The buses are always packed to the rafters, so you’re probably going to be standing. In which case, your only goal in life is to remain upright against the g-forces being arrayed against you every five seconds or so. If you do perchance get a seat — say you got on at the beginning of the line, or very soon after — you would then have the opportunity to, like, make a chart notating how many (few) inches of clearance the driver left between the back-inside wheel and the cliff’s edge for each turn until your destination. Or you could just sit back and enjoy the legendary views. Or whatever grabs your god damn fancy.

May 9:

Kandy: The “cultural center of Sri Lanka,” according to the guidebook. But if you enjoy breathing, please don’t ever, ever come here. The vehicles’ exhaust fumes are more suffocating and noxious even than on Chiang Mai’s moat road — and that’s really saying something.

So sad to be leaving the Hill Country; feel like I barely scratched its surface. This parting photo, of the Meskeliya Reservoir, is maybe the best shot I’ve ever gotten from the inside of a moving vehicle. They just never seem to work out; but, at long last, one did…

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May 12:

Oof, it’s hot out here — drank six Coconuts on the Buddha’s birthday, which I believe equals a personal best. They all call ’em “King Coconut” here, which at first I found a bit chintzy. But after one month’s indoctrination, am now fully on board, and can be heard walking down the street calling out at random intervals, “King Coconut!”

Meanwhile, though Colombo is not by any stretch among my favourite places, when it comes to the sun setting over the sea, it needn’t take a back seat to anyone. (Okay, it takes a back seat to Alexandria…but that’s about it.)

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May 12:

Holy fuck.

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May 12:

They celebrated the Buddha’s birfday the last two nights, and in Colombo the fine people were carrying on as if they’d just tasted victory in thee World Cup final.

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The city was awash in colour; electric lights and homemade lanterns adorning every possible surface — including, to great effect, forming tunnels over many roadways for blocks on end. Plus, free ice cream for all.

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The first night was marred, unfortunately, by the presence of every single motor-car on the island (or so it seemed) sitting idling in gridlock and spewing fumes so poisonous they make the eyes sting for any with the misfortune to be in the vicinity. The biggest street party of the year, and none of the streets were blocked off to traffic. I’d call it the boner of the decade — but it’s certainly the same every year. The second night, there was much less traffic (though still far too much, honestly), and it was at least possible to walk around and enjoy the tasty visual fantasia without being completely fumigated to death.

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Enjoyable though it was (whenever breathing was possible), it’s nowhere near the level of Bangkok’s Chinese New Year celebrations, for example. Surprisingly weak programming, honestly. But, anyway, worth a look if one happens to be in the area. What any of it has to do with the Buddha’s actual teachings…well, nobody likes a party-pooper, so, I guess we shan’t be asking such impertinent questions just now.

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Popped down here to Ambalangoda to-day to check out the area’s famous mask scene, and fell asleep on the train only to awaken just as it was pulling out of my station. Got off at the next stop, fifteen minutes down the line, and brought the bus back, so no big deal; but…I’m pretty sure that’s never happened to me before!

May 13:

How beautiful are these goddam Sri Lankan currency notes? Possibly maybe the world’s most, n’est pas?

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May 13:

Holy fuck again.

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May 13:

Next time ’round I’ll be a trout!

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 May 15:

Really wanted to stay in Ambalangoda one more night: It’s got skull-shattering sunsets, the ocean is in Beast Mode with the arrival of the monsoon (not good for swimming — but fun to watch!), the roof deck of my guest house had a perfect breeze at all times and was a terrific place from which to enjoy the nightly thunder/lightning activity, and…best King Coconuts on thee island (at a third the price for the same volume as in other locations, not to mention).

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However, I’d not yet visited Colombo’s National Museum, so I did my duty and made my way back up here last night. The museum is nice enough (more masks!), though, frankly, not essential.

Glad I came back, though, ’cause there were some very cool people at the hostel, including an Argentinian who told me all I ever needed to know (and then some) about his Vipassana experiences and a Kenyan who endeared himself to me very greatly by using the fuck-word with excellent frequency. So happy did this make me that I gifted him my fruit knife, which I must surrender before flying, but had been planning to sell for half the price I’d paid (or what).

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Have to say, my hostel-mates — both here and in Egypt — have been spectacularly interesting people, at more less every single stop. That’s always been true to some extent, but this year the effect has been hyper-realised.

A very few, if one would pardon the indulgence, random moments of the type which can’t be captured photographically, but which, in actual fact, are the moments that stick with yon traveller the most (or at least I so find).

 ~ The train pulls in to some backwater Hill Country town; just outside the station await three or four empty tuk-tuks — their drivers presumably over at the exit gate angling for customers. Blasting from one of the tuk-tuks is an (I’m guessing) Sinhalese cover of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”; it’s got a kind of calypso beat, very festive. Would love to hear that thing in its entirety. Anybody know it? Jeff Norman? Marc Hewson? Surely there’s some obsessive individual tracking every known Beatles cover, one would think?

~ Walking back to the guest house in Haputhale, a major squall arrived just as I was passing a little general store which happens to trade in King Coconuts. I grabbed one to drink while waiting out the storm under a nearby overhang. Occasionally, some impatient soul would brave the buckets of rain and come running down the hill to get something from the shoppe — including, at one point, a barefoot lady in a Burkha with an enormous grin on her face. That sight, in that moment, will be, I think, the most cherished memory from my visit here. And, combined with a similar sight in Alexandria, I think it’s feasible to propose a fine rule of thumb (if not Law Of Nature): Ladies + Burkhas + Running = Pure Entertainment Gold.

~ A boy sitting next to me on a bus from somewhere to some other where is playing Donkey Kong, Jr. on his very-small-screened phone. Fuck, the countless hours and quarters I spent playing that game, thirty-odd years ago, at the Redmond Pizza Haven! Brings back some memories.

~ A sign reads “Jesus Miracle Ministry”; another “Wash Master — We Groom Your Lifestyle”. Unlike in India where the English signage is extremely precise, it’s much more, let’s say, haphazard, here — more reminiscent of Southeast Asia. In fact, I’d say that in general Sri Lanka is much more similar to southern Thailand than it is to India.

~ A man steps onto the bus to sell I-don’t-remember-what; his sales pitch consisting entirely of the words, “Wadawadawadawada” spoken over and over again at light speed.

Just a few moments that especially stick out. There are dozens every day, of greater or lesser indelibility. And tomorrow (knock wood), I’ll be eating Durian in Kuala Lumpur…

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