Posts Tagged ‘travel’

Koh Phi Phi

August 31, 2016

Stepping off the boat

the waves of sales

men crash over us

following the scent

of our currency.

The current flows

 

Into the land of lads and ladettes –

To large linoleum dance floors,

And listless signs proclaiming

“You know what goes well with beer?

 

Sex.”

And everyone has it dripping in the sweat

That circulates through the square;

The throbbing beat of nineties classics

And the traffic of hungover teens

 

Living the Thailand dream.

And I feel like Philip Larkin

Watching them

on the long slide.

To happiness. Endlessly.

 

He accepts his own impending mortality, however.

 

I’m 28.

And this is torture.

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Ohrid – Sofia through the Macedonian countryside

July 25, 2016

The paper land is ripped to reveal the sky –

A hand-torn collage of crete-paper trees,

Orange sugar paper rock faces and

Harsh lines drawn through the green.

Houses cut from old travel brochures

Dot fuzzy felt valleys or peep out

From behind make-shift leaves.

 

Later, as mum cleared the mess and put away the glue,

She could have sworn she saw my little rickety bus

Travelling through.

Porto Montenegro and the fall of Tivat

August 27, 2014

Montenegro is still up-and-coming as a tourist destination: we are staying very near to Tivat airport and I wouldn’t say it’s a particularly busy airport. But it shouldn’t be, yet: Tivat is not ready.

From the Tourist Centre, if you walk to the beach you find a concrete coast, half-tiled, half dirt-path. There are many cafés and shops but not enough people to warrent them really: a few leather-skinned families waltz past; young people hang about in packs by the henna-tattoo hippy; and the even-younger jump into the water from a two-foot concrete diving board while their parents bake on the beach. To the left is a huge construction site – three skeletons of buildings sit beneath their corresponding crane – and you can see these will be luxury hotels or even more luxurious apartments.

You can follow a small stream of people to these half-completed complexes and around to the other side, through a small alley past a metal fence, where large numbers of taxis sit in a line waiting for prey.

And the prey are here. Coming out of the half-constructed alley, suddenly you’re in a well-lit, palm-tree lined, white-walled, miniature-fountain-laden marina complete with smart restaurants, organic food store and row upon row of pristine super-yachts. At this point, you could be anywhere – in this playground for the filthy rich all character is edited out – any unkempt nook destroyed or replaced. It is not the real world.

Walking along one of the piers with the many yachts tethered to it, it’s difficult not to want to stand in the centre of it all and scream “You all have too much money!”. This is a town surrounded by beautiful wooded mountains with perfectly clear water in the bay coming in from the Adriatic and seriously hot summers and yet it is being turned into a faceless nowhere-land where people with yachts throw money around before going to the next faceless nowhere-land (Puerto Banus or the like). You can see that this whole coastline will eventually be encroached upon by this concrete imaginary-land. All the surrounding big roads signs in Russian and English proclaim ‘Quality Real-Estate Available’ so you know this is not somewhere aimed at locals. As the prices continue to be hiked up, they will eventually be pushed out. No, this new faceless nowhere-land is a party for the super-rich and I, for one, am glad not to be invited.

10 things the guidebook don’t* tell you about… German Switzerland!

August 8, 2014

*For the record, as my brother seemed to think I was under the impression “don’t” is the correct word to use hear rather than the actual correct “doesn’t” – I am using “don’t” on purpose as I think it has a ring to it… All right?! 

1. Generosity: the Swiss have been amazing hosts to me, I can’t thank them enough for making my time here incredibly comfortable. For example, when staying at my friend’s dad’s house on the outskirts of Zurich we came back from a festival covered in mud so left our dirty shoes and clothes on the porch before falling into bed. When we awoke he had hosed down our shoes and washed all our clothes and hung them out to dry for us. And there were four of us staying there – most parents would surely expect things to be the other way round but he wouldn’t let us help out – we were his guests and that was that. My friend Rowan in Bern joked that it’s easy to be generous when you’re Swiss because you just have so much money! Ahem…

2. Nearly everyone has a balcony. Standardly. 

3. There is no such thing as a “seedy area”. I went to stay one night at my uncle’s flat in a place called Trimbach which he said was “cheap and a little seedy”. This place was set into the foothills of the mountains, next to a river; everything was super-clean and the gardens incredibly well maintained; and there was a lindt chocolate factory nearby. I’m surprised there is a translation for seedy in Swiss-German at all! 

4. There are playful (maybe not completely playful) tensions not only between the people who speak different languages in Switzerland but also between dialects! People in St Gallen get taken the piss out of for not pronouncing their ‘R’s properly, and generally German German is frowned upon!

5. And despite being part of a different country the French-Swiss are still looked upon as snobby! The English will be pleased to hear that!

6. They think they are running out of space. Quite a few people said to me that there was so much construction of properties going on that there would be nothing left to build on soon. As a Londoner, looking around at Switzerland’s wide open spaces and even average garden-size and house-size this seemed absurd. It is possible to fit a lot more in I assure you. The thing is, with “foreign” often a dirty word in Switzerland (and I don’t think I’m being unfair here – just look at some of the political advertising from the last election), I felt that maybe it was political canvassing that might have caused this concern. A lot of tensions in England to do with immigrants are exacerbated by this myth that “there’s not enough room for them: we are full”. Which, of course, we’re not.

7. Fondue is only a winter thing. We managed to convince our hosts on a rainy summer evening to get the fondue pot out (every Swiss has one!) and, my God, that stuff is rich! I needed to stay seated for quite a while afterward to let the cheese settle!

8. Education can go on forever. The fees for degrees are relatively low, so you can stay in education for as long as you want, pretty much. My friend is just finishing his bachelors in Linguistics and thinks he will now do another bachelors in Law. Not even a Law conversion – a full bachelors followed by a masters. Why do we put such a high price on education in the UK? It makes no sense.

9. They make really good chocolate ice-cream. Go on, have some. And the ice-cream shop in Bern was open later than the supermarket. You can tell where their priorities lie!

10. Train stations are city hubs. They are the meeting place, the eating place, the shopping centre. There is a rule that allows train station shops to be open every day and later than normal shops – so they have become the place to be, it seems!

I am currently in Dresden, Germany and my post about here (a new favourite city!) will be coming up shortly! Tschüss!

In Between Belgrade and Budapest

July 31, 2014

As I am about to embark on another month-long European journey, I have been looking back at some of the things I wrote and picked up along the way when I last did this. That was back in 2007, when I was on the verge of turning 19. That time, I spent all year saving up, and had my interrail pass ready and so many plans that ended up ignored. This time I’ve been far less prepared, pretty much doing the whole thing on a whim.

Back then, I had had a difficult few years leading up to that point, and this was my first true taste of freedom, and my first solo travelling trip. I suppose you could say it changed my life – in that I realised that travelling was going to be a big part of me and my life. But then again, I was still me: I didn’t feel different and I didn’t find any inner strength that meant I could escape the troubles I returned to afterward. That came a lot later, after a lot more poetry.

Anyway here is a poem that I wrote on a night train from Belgrade to Budapest. I was in a cabin with these cackling old hags (for want of a better word) – in my mind they are almost pantomime versions of the witches from Macbeth, the floor between us their cauldron. Across the horizon lightning cracked through the sky over and over again in intensely close dry storms, and all I could hear was the lightning, thunder and their laughter, non-stop, all night. LJ

In Between Belgrade and Budapest (2007)

Jumping along rickety track
Window held open
With a ball-point pen.

Sharp shrieks scatter
Across the silhouetted landscape.
Straining to escape the confines

Of the carriage and open myself up
To the cracking sky,
I push down rounded-plastic
And tap a roll-up into the breeze.

Flashes of exposure engulf my
Awaiting skin. Impulses of awakening
As lights dim

From towns propped up on the edge
Of the horizon.

Momentarily, I glare into the cabin:
Smiles from women with broken teeth;
Cigarettes hanging from broken mouths;
Destitute little dots returning
Or leaving, ricocheting through the static.

They are
Deep in foreign conversation so
I return to the opening chasm above

Ignoring the decaying butts and composted dust
Wiped into the fraying green rug
Beneath my feet.

10 Things the Guidebook Don’t tell you About… Peru

August 19, 2013

1. Construction. Everything is in a different stage of construction, half built buildings are everywhere to the point where some cities look like they wouldn’t have existed a few months previously. Piles of rubble squat on the streets in many areas. Juliaca is basically a building site. We were told that in Bolivia you don’t have to pay tax on your house until it’s finished so many people leave their houses unfinished on purpose. I’m assuming the same goes for Peru.

2. Horn honking. Particularly in Lima honking your horn when driving is just what you do. All the time. Honk if they’re driving too slow; honk if they’re driving too fast; honk if they won’t let you through; honk to say thankyou if they do; honk if you’re sat in traffic; honk if you’re not. It’s so noisy. It’s even got to the point where the council have put up signs saying “No Honking”.

3. Queueing. They don’t do it. Don’t bother trying. They will walk in front of you even if it’s obvious you’re waiting.

4. Food portions. The USA get a raw deal it seems, people always say that they serve massive portions. In Peru, they serve MASSIVE portions. How is one person supposed to eat all that?! I’m sure it’s generosity, but I feel guilty about how much I have to leave on my plate when I’m full! It is still a full plate! Three or four people could eat one portion here and be full.

5. Tourism. In some places, like the floating islands (crazy man made islands, made out of compacted reeds in Lake Titicaca), Tourism makes up 50% of the residents’ income. It’s big money. Aguas Calientes is almost, it seems, entirely made up of shops and hotels aimed at us. Shops selling “artisan” products are everywhere and of varying quality. Saying that, it makes it easy to be a tourist here and you always feel pretty safe.

6. Bartering. Although it is entirely out of my character to do this, being embarassed and British, you really can barter here. My friend Lisa was very good at it, getting prices halved sometimes. In Ollaytatambo we wanted to buy a little jumper for a child, she quoted us too much and wouldn’t come down so we walked away. The lady actually sprinted 100m after us saying “OK ten!!” and sold it to us there on the street.

7. Native Peoples. I had the impression that most native peoples in Peru would wear normal clothes and that those in traditional dress just did it for the tourists but this is very far from the truth. Many local people still wear traditional dress and the campesinos working the fields are certainly not doing it for tourism.

8. There are inca ruins everywhere. Like, actually everywhere.

9. Collectivos. I said this about Chile too but these are amazing! Taxis that pick up other people too and cost next to nothing for very long journeys. Only thing is you often have to wait until they’re full before you can leave.

10. Couldn’t think of any more so a guy called Tom has told me: if you drink alcohol at Machu Pichu you get banned for life. Something to keep in mind!

Machu Pichu: The Tourists Take the Dawn

August 1, 2013

Aguas Calientes
Your dogs are revolting –
Patrolling sectors
By night; three perch
Beneath my window, by 2am
Lack of sleep has me barking with them.

2 hours later, tourists take over
Following the scent of the station
Like ants toward their nest.
The queue of backpacks and sunhats
Extends into the sunrise
While condensed-milk coffee is sold
By the roadside.

A town of tourism rises early
And the sleepless nights in you, Calientes, show
In the rattle of fingernails she runs through her hair; the momentary stutter of her fluttering lashes; and the need in her face that says
Buy, buy, buy:

I am awake for you.

Buses come and run past
‘Te para ti?’
The queue moves slow
‘Cigarillo or three?’
But on each bus a reminder
Of our destination
And as we board and pull away, Calientes,
We are brought above you
Ascending, ascending, ascending until…

Abre los ojos, Calientes,
For above you is what you could be,
Where the sky’s canopy breaks
And an all powerful sun
Frees us
And awakes.

Lost in Lima

July 28, 2013

The bustling streets of Lima seem to extend into the abyss: would-be hot-dog stands sell ‘Corn & Cheese’, peeled pineapple and churros filled with dulce de leche; buses stop and start as squashed faces stare out; traffic sprawls across all lanes, horns parping away to no avail. Getting through the street involves careful Metal Gear Solid co-ordination: make the wrong move and there could be a serious pile-up.

We were a little lost. Having spent the day in the historical centre, we had wandered slightly off the tourist trail and although it was only 3.30 it seemed Rush Hour was in full swing. In fact, it seems it’s always Rush Hour in Lima. At 10.30 when we’d taken the bus into town it had been the same – sandwiched in our tin can, my hips gripping the side of a chair, my feet finding space where they could, I felt as if I should be on my way to the office. Sat next to where I was standing a small baby perched on mum’s knee, stroking my suedette trousers consistently throughout awe-struck at the softness.

The streets remain full way into the night and early morning. It’s an energy I don’t see very often. In London the crowds are a slow moan through the grey, and although the skies here hang like film noir frames, it feels more a way of life. People zig-zag around eachother with ease and there’s a vibe to it almost, that something is happening; that wherever people are going it’ll end up better on the other side.

Ten Things the Guidebook Don’t Tell You About… Chile.

August 24, 2012

Here are some of those odd things you only realise when you get to Chile… in list form!

1. Some supermarkets don’t sell fresh garlic or tins of beans. However, they all have their own supermarket-brand basic tinned mussels – phew.

2. There are dogs EVERYWHERE. The ones on the street are generally pretty calm whereas the ones sat behind gates have anger management issues. They ALL hate cars – so much so that they will chase them down the street barking. This is pretty scary in Santiago as it looks like you’ll run them over but in smaller towns it’s pretty funny. Today, I saw a car completely brought to a standstill by a couple of dogs who had surrounded it barking and refusing to move. More and more dogs just kept coming to join in the fun. Evenually the people had to just park where they were and sit it out. Made for excellent viewing.

3. If you want some cheese and you go and ask “¿Tienes queso?” (Do you have cheese), the reply will nearly always be “Yes, how many?” which is pretty confusing at first. But basically, apart from Jumbo and farms that make their own cheese, when you want cheese you get Gouda. There is no choice in the matter – you want cheese? Well, it’s Gouda. In slices.

4. Every single computer keyboard is set to a different setting from what you can see on the keys. Even in people’s houses that I’ve been to. What. The. Hell?

5. Chileans do not like spicy food. If you want fresh chili you will have to buy really weak ones and add a lot. They just don’t sell other types. Apart from Merken – a Chilean spice – which you can have with bread and salsa. Love it.

6. Despite my guidebook saying that Chilean men don’t really bother you, this is just not the case. The men here are the most persistent I have met (although according to them the Argentinians and Brazillians are far worse). If you tell them to go away, there is absolutely no way they are going anywhere. Once they have set their eyes on you, they will not stop until they have you. Last night I physically pushed this guy away from me, all of his friends were laughing at him, and so was I. They were all leaving and I kept telling him to go with them but he wouldn’t. Eventually they pulled him away. 15mins later he walked back into the bar, alone, pulled up a chair, and joined me and my friends at our table. No question. No ‘can I join you?’. Incredible. And just to clear it up, he went home alone.

7. If you are a guest in their home, you are not allowed to do anything. At all. If they cook for you, you cannot do the washing up. If you need anything at all, they will get it for you. The generosity is staggering. It doesn’t matter who you are… and in the case of the Antofagastian family I stayed with, whether you can speak the same language. They will drop everything for you. Amazing.

8. In Chile, being a vegetarian is very difficult. In Antofagasta I visited a restaurant where the vege option was ‘pollo’ (chicken). Considering you get offered a lot of eggs and cheese as a vege, I can’t begin to imagine what it would be like to be vegan. I met a girl who was lactose intollerant who was having a little bit of a nightmare finding food.

9. They make beer as well as wine! And it’s actually quite good! And pisco – ahhh, pisco, my new best friend. They know about alcohol in this country, that’s for sure.

10. My guidebook said Santiago is avoidable. It is not. Santiago is amazing. The people are fantastic, the bars are great and it is incredibly beautiful despite the smog. One moment you’re walking down an ugly highway and then you look to your left and the snow capped Andes peer at you through the mist. It’s a great presence in the city. Don’t visit South America or Chile and avoid the capital, you’ll miss a lot.

Wintering in La Serena

August 22, 2012

The couple to the right of me had passed out mid-empanada. Since the sun had begun to set, many of the passengers around me had gradually succumbed to the rhythms of the coach. We were travelling to La Serena – a small coastal city almost 400km north of Santiago – and I had stayed awake waiting for that first peek at the Pacific.  Most tourists visit in summer for the beach and the sun and yet here I was in winter, sunglasses in one hand, and scarf in the other. I wasn’t here to improve the tan.

It was 6pm. By this point, the pre-cordillera Andes (foothills) had begun to flatten out, and I could feel that we were getting close. And then, just before sunset, the teeth of the rocks opened up and the ocean flooded out.  First, a cove – a small white sandy beach painted turquoise by the water and then, there it was. An expanse of water stretching far into the pastel blue of the horizon – My eyes drank it all in.

Arriving in La Serena, one of the first things I wanted to do was to see it. I had met many Chileans in Santiago who holidayed and even owned second homes here so I had high expectations. Although visiting in low-season, the weather was good – My first morning, I headed into town to look around and to get supplies in preparation for a late lunch on the beach.

The city itself feels more like a town – the calm Plaza de Armas (main square) glimmers with cleanliness beneath palm trees while market traders sell the famous Chilean papaya based goods and artisanal souvenirs on the side of the street. But as you walk further into town, you’re suddenly surrounded by people – heaps of them, filling the streets with their awkward shopping bags, prams and suitcases. A shopping marathon seemed to be taking place, and I’d accidently walked in on it.

I passed shoe shop after shoe shop, eventually coming to La Recova – a spacious artisanal mall with restaurants on the top floor and below, a selection of craft and souvenir shops. It might be authentic but it doesn’t feel it. Every shop sells the same woollen jumpers and mini bottles of pisco, none of them for a reasonable price. It reminded me of a much smaller Camden Lock in London – started as a place for artisans and now a place almost solely for tourists. I still bought myself a poncho – I couldn’t help myself.

Afterward, I wandered into the Archaeological Museum, which houses lots of impressive artefacts – mainly from the Antofagasta and Tarapaca indigenous people (a map shows how many there were before the Spanish arrived). There are two mummies perfectly preserved and also a Maoi – Easter Island statue – which, if you haven’t been to Easter Island, is a sight to behold. You can get round the museum in about half an hour and your ticket (CLP600) gets you in to the other museum by the Plaza too. But I had other plans.

Heading finally to the beach, hunger in my stomach and expectation in my mind; I began to gallop along Avda. Francisco de Aguirre – the long stretch of road before the water. The basic tourist map ends at the Japanese Gardens which sit about 20-25 minutes away from the ocean, so I had to ask. I was told to just keep heading straight. The road became a mish-mash of pre-construction wasteland, mud-hut mini-markets, mechanic outlets and brand new hotels. The construction of other hotels along the road had already begun and there were many white balconied edifices at different points of creation. Advertising billboards declared ‘The best views in La Serena’.

However, from the street, blue fencing hid the mountains from view in front of plush villas and private university buildings. In clouds of dust and rolls of orange mesh, builders ran around in navy overalls, shouting, drilling and digging. Although palm trees lined the middle of the road, much of that area was still being paved and there were diggers sitting dormant in the path. A lighthouse eventually came into view and the pavement on my side ended so I began to trample over dust, plastic peligroso signs flapping from lampposts to my side.

Finally, I crossed to the ‘lighthouse’. It’s not really a lighthouse, but more, a pillar to signify your arrival at the La Serena beach. The weather had changed since I’d been walking and now grey clouds skirted around the horizon, the hills on the edge of the panorama purple under various layers of mist. The water was wild, large waves thudding against the land. But I couldn’t hear it. I could smell it, I could see it, but all I could hear was the drilling.

Around the walls at the lighthouse, teenagers on a coach trip were playing out various roles – a couple kissed, an overweight boy posed for a photo – and that serenity that I imagined from the coach returned to my dreams. The reality was this noisy, litter-strewn beach which in the summer may be worth sunbathing at, but in the winter screams of the destruction of human intervention.

To my left at this point, I heard a big screech and one boy, almost silhouetted at this time in the evening, held aloft a dead gull by its beak. Other boys gathered around him to throw sand at it, giggling, falling over themselves. The black shadow of the bird seemed to drip toward the sand. And all I could hear was drilling.

You can see an edited version of this piece at I Love Chile.