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Extraordinary Measures

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

Suit Fitting

As far as I could tell, the suit fitted perfectly. John shrugged into the jacket and turned, looking over his shoulder, when a pained expression crossed his face.

“What is it?” the Tailor asked.

“Not enough, er—” he indicated his crotch, “—ballroom.”

The Tailor tsk-ed and walked around him, tweaking here and there.

“Bend over. Hm…” He gestured at the row of chairs. “Sit down and spread your legs. Let me see.”

John did, grimaced and got up again. “It’s no good. It’s too tight!”

At that moment a man on a scooter pulled up outside, grabbing several suit covers that were draped over the handlebar. The Tailor gestured and he tossed the suits over a rail and came over. The two exchanged a few words in Thai.

The man shook his head and the Tailor pointed towards John. Without taking off his helmet, the Driver walked over and crouched on the floor, where—with the Tailor leaning over his shoulder—he proceeded to feel John’s crotch.

The Driver tsk-ed and mumbled something.

“Not normal size,” The Tailor translated.

“Big, eh?” the Driver grinned. There was another short exchange in Thai, then the Tailor picked out the roll of Cashmere which had been the material for the suit. Waving his yard stick, he measured out a generous strap and ran his scissors through the precious material. He handed the strap to the Driver while shooting John an admonishing glance.

The Driver took the offending trousers and extra material and departed.

“Come back tonight,” the Tailor said.

John did. This time the suit fitted perfectly.

Don’t be the Lamb

Sunday, April 27th, 2008

Easter Fireworks

There was no build-up.

I had expected everything to be closed, but quite to the contrary, the street was lively as we stepped out at 10 p.m. to look for some entertainment.

We settled on what was quickly becoming our regular: Cosmogonia Bar where the locals outnumbered the tourists, the atmosphere was convival and great music played as the night wore on.

And wear on it did: at a quarter past eleven there was still no direction in the way people were ambling up and down the street.

“I think I should go,” I said to John. “I have no idea where everybody is supposed to come from, but come midnight it’s going to be packed out there. Perhaps I should climb up the hill for a better view.”

‘Out there’ was the church yard, barely fifty metres down the road from the bar. Directly behind it was the hill that led up to the fortress. From there I was hoping to get a good vantage point over the crowd that was supposed to gather a few short moments from now, lighting candles at the stroke of midnight, like twinkling stars that announced to the world that Christos anesti—Christ is risen—and Easter had arrived.

I had a beer to finish first. When I stepped out barely a quarter of an hour later, the street had miraculously filled with people. Young and old, visitors and locals, huddled shoulder-to-shoulder in front of the church entrance, awaiting the announcement with bated breath, candles in hand.

There was no way of getting through to the path that led up the hill.

Somebody pressed a candle into my hand. I turned to see another tourist behind me, grinning.

I shook my head. “I’m a atheist!”

“Me too. Enjoy!”

From the direction of the church, flickering lights began to appear. Already?

I handed the candle over to somebody who must have dropped theirs. I wasn’t worthy of it, but I hoped the guy who’d given it to me wouldn’t mind.

Easter Candles

Truth be told, I was too busy clicking away—with the flash off but feeling somewhat dirty nevertheless.

Then fireworks exploded behind the church tower. And something else: shots rang in the air and charges of dynamite shook the ground.

I became a little worried. The land wasn’t parched, and Easter happens every year, but yet…

Suddenly the scene turned unreal. As if in a dream, I watched great orange tongues of flame licking at the hillside, building up into waves that crested the trees and broke at the wall of the fortress, threatening to engulf it.

If the wind turned—just a little—the town would be next.

“Do you think that’s staged?” I whispered to the guy behind me.

He looked grim. “Doesn’t look staged to me. But by all means snap away. Don’t mind the town or the people.”

I stood frozen, staring at the flames, while all around me the people cheered on, oblivious.

Easter Celebrations

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No Nara

Monday, October 22nd, 2007

No Nara

Todaiji Buddhist temple in Nara.
Based on a public domain image.


The train I’d boarded on impulse turned out to be JR after all—the slow train with many additional stops for commuters. The subway uses a different station.

And that was the cause for my troubles.

Today would be the first day in almost a week when I didn’t get to visit at least one World Heritage Site, even though Nara boasts no fewer than eight of them. It does not, however, boast many hotels.

This time, I’d had the foresight to print out a map in the foyer of the excellent Toyoko Inn in Himeji. I didn’t seem to need it as I spotted the ‘Super Hotel’ from the station. It wasn’t open for check-in until 3 p.m., but I could live with that. After all, the Toyoko Inn didn’t open until four. However, the reception wasn’t staffed, and I didn’t want to risk coming back later, only to find it fully booked, with lines of destitute travellers queuing down the street like the homeless in ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’ which I’d watched last night.

So, map in hand, I went to look for alternatives.

Of the five hotels listed in the area between the station and the park, three didn’t seem to exist and the remaining two were too expensive. But the ‘Super Hotel’ wasn’t listed, so the map wasn’t aimed at budget travellers. I would just have to look around.

The sun climbed into the sky. Before long, rivulets of sweat were streaming down my face and into my eyes. By noon, it was as hot as Bangkok.

I was about to give up when I spotted a sign for the tourist information.

***(Long entry—1,500 words—but worth it if you want to read about me making an arse of myself)***
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Japan, condensed

Tuesday, January 30th, 2007

Japan, Sushi Restaurant“>

We flew back, and I mean right back. Across the tropics, all the way from Capricorn to Cancer, and across half the world to arrive back in winter. Time and space reverted again. It’s cold in the north, February proper, and walking out of the plane was like walking into a fridge.

Welcome back to the real world. And dammit, it’s chilly out here. But tonight I wasn’t disgusted by the stale warm air blowing out of the doorways—rather than the cool refreshment of air conditioning—because, tonight, we were in Japan.
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Down and Out in Makassar

Wednesday, January 4th, 2006

Makassar, Sulawesi, January 4th 2006

I woke up with a start. It was 3:30 am and I’d overslept the alarm.

Everything was ready to go, so I quickly stuffed my wet towel on top of the backpack and closed it. Sweeping the room one last time and seeing nothing amiss, I hurried down the gloomy corridor in my socks. The guy from reception came up to me when I slipped into my flip-flops at the bottom on the staircase (a quick feel had confirmed that my boots were still wet from the monsoon rains—within and without).

“Ah, you’re ready! You need to catch the ship!”

It gave me a warm glow that he was making sure I got up in time, even though the hostel—in a dark alley close to the harbour—was somewhat impersonal, to say the least. I smiled and bade him good-bye, then hurriedly stepped out into the street. I was late. There wasn’t time to worry about getting mugged or otherwise dither.

The street was almost deserted. A few lone revellers passed by, nodding when they made eye contact. Once past the container port and through the gate to the passenger terminal, all that changed. I could see the milling crowds from afar. Again, it looked as if an exodus was in progress, but I took heart. There would be plenty of room for everyone and their households on the ship. But where was the ship? It was now almost 4am.

I turned around to ask at the police post, only to find it deserted. So was the information counter inside the bustling hall. Somebody mentioned a departure time of six. That made sense— perhaps four o’clock was the check-in time. Still, it would help if the ship was there, as it would take a while for everyone to board.

I put down my backpack next to a family group and tried to stretch out on the smooth, warm tiles, but I couldn’t relax. Besides, dozing off would not be advisable. So I sat down on some stairs for a smoke, a few steps away from the sleepers.

Time passed. Eventually, the family upped their belongings and left, perhaps to enquire when the ship was due. I took a last swig from my can and made to get up, when someone tapped me on the shoulder.

“Excuse me?”

I turned around and stared at him irritatedly for a moment. Just some bloke trying to make a pass, or perhaps wanting to practice his English. But if it was the latter, no further word passed his lips.
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Lost in the Floodplains, Aguaro-Guariquito National Park, Venezuela

Sunday, February 6th, 2005

I’m looking through some old journals, trying to piece together another story for BootsNall, purely to keep with the travel writing game while also working on my other blog. This one is from notes for a story which I never got around to writing for the wilderness women submission call. It follows on from an earlier entry on this blog (with better pictures).

The Llanos del Orinoco region is a vast area right in the centre of Venezuela, large swathes of which are flooded during the rainy season. We kind of stumbled across it.

(ca. 1700 words)
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A day on the river — with pictures!

Thursday, September 16th, 2004

This story has recently appeared on BootsNall, but I have now unearthed the original slides from the loft and it works much better with pictures!

What do I remember about San Fernando de Apure?


“Capybara con aroz”, the world’s largest rodent on the menu.

Piranhas that eat cigarettes.

Giant waterbugs, the size of my hand. The world’s biggest insects. They were swarming under the streetlights, expiring flapping on the pavement.

The best paella I have ever tasted. The first paella I have ever tasted.

The world’s finest rum.

San Fernando de Apure, in central Venezuela, was our haven between trips down the Apure and across the Orinoco looking for river dolphins (Inia geoffrensis). While we were waiting to arrange for a dug-out to take on a longer trip, we paddled around the local tributaries in a small aluminium canoe, pulling up on banks or drifting slowly down the current; studying the dolphins within easy reach of San Fernando’s urban comforts.


It was a calm day and we were drifting slowly, almost stationary, on a side-arm of the Apurito tributary which had widened across a shallow plain, almost forming a lake. It was a great day for dolphin-watching.


At first we had only spotted one animal, but as we settled down to our observations we soon noticed that we were surounded by a group of five or even more.


In the murky water, their shapes remained invisible and they seldom extended more than their blow-hole and the uppermost part of their dome-shaped head above water-level, so we could not get a clear idea of how many there were. But I was sure there was at least one calf among them.

Engrossed as we were, with time we relaxed, sipping from our flasks and puffing on cigarettes while keeping an eye on the water.


I sat back and dangled one hand lazily over the side of the boat, flipping a butt overboard with the other. A shadowy movement just below the surface — the butt was gone. I pulled my arms up close. We stared at the spot where it had vanished: the water was mirror-calm once again. John dropped his cigarette into the water. The same thing happened. Barely a ripple had broken the surface.

“Piranhas?” he whispered.

We had seen them in the market only the day before. The locals catch them by simply tapping a stick onto the water and hauling them into the boat: fat, silver fish a foot long, covered in tiny scales, their gaping jaws studded with razor-sharp teeth. The dolphins eat them. Maybe that was why there were so many dolphins here.

“Probably,” I whispered back: “Let’s not dangle our hands in the water.”


We had gradually drifted closer to shore. That suited us fine, it was about lunchtime. I took the paddle and John steered the boat towards the bank. Chatting, I looked over my shoulder only to see him stare fixedly ahead, noticably paler. His lips formed a word but no sound came out. I turned back and found myself staring into the barrel of a gun.

The guy who trained the weapon on us at point-blank range wore a stetson, a chequered shirt and a miffed expression. No self-respecting bandito dressed like that. As far as we could surmise, he was on his own. He was the ranchero and we were trespassing on his land.

We spoke about three words of Spanish between us, so I doubt he could understand our assurances that we were students studying river dolphins. No matter — we had to try.

“Boto!” John explained.

The guy fixed me for a moment with what I can only describe as an appalled stare before assuming a more menacing frown. I remembered that this is what the dolphins are called in Brazil, but not up here. He could not understand a word of what we were trying to say. Suddenly, I remembered.

“Tonina!” I cried. The guy’s expression relaxed at once.

“Estudiantes”, I went on: “Biologie.” I pointed at my eyes and slowly swept my arms across the river behind us: “Toninas!”

“Ah si.” The man appeared satisfied, but he clearly had us down as crazy. John indicated the boat and ourselves and pointed down the river. The man waved his gun dismissively; we were free to take our leave. This we did, paddling as speedily as the current allowed, all the way back to town.

“Boto” we would learn later that evening, is the local dialect for “hooker”.


My first big break?

Sunday, August 8th, 2004

Look what I found in my e-mail when I got back to my computer after a week away — a reply from!
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Scoring herbs in Amsterdam

Friday, June 11th, 2004

The police in Portugal have come up with a great way to clamp down on hooliganism during Euro 2004. They have proposed to turn a “blind eye” to the smoking of canabis, figuring that the fans will be too stoned to kick up trouble. How is that for intelligent policing (if that isn’t a contradiction in terms)?

Hearing this on the news brings back memories of Amsterdam last summer…
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