Angels With Dirty Faces

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“I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.”
 – Winston Churchill

I love the way that all the livestock just wanders freely around the Island here. Pigs with their piglets and Chickens followed by clouds of little chicks are everywhere you look. Even the church had a shifty-looking pig lurking about in the garden in front.

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Neiafu, the main town, is pretty easy to navigate around given that it’s just a small line of bars/cafés/the odd shop along the harbour. On my second morning here I was whisked up by one of the couples who’ve set up business just out of town. They run a totally organic and waste free farm where they grow vanilla and coconuts to export to Japan and Australia. I loved hearing the processes by which they re-use any potential waste products: Coconut husks are used as ‘compost’ around the base of the vanilla plants or shredded to form a base for the mushroom farm they’re trying to set up. The shells are burnt to make charcoal, the heat of which is used to extract salt from seawater to cure the pig meat with. Any waste from pigs/chickens is given to the mud crabs in the mangroves which they catch to sell in town. The pig excretions are used to create a kind of ‘bio fuel’ and so on!

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Some kids playing in the gorgeous red dirt!

Some kids playing in the gorgeous red dirt!

The vanilla trade in Tonga used to be one of its main exports – the couple running the farm are trying to rebuild it again.

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When the sun goes down all sorts of crazy things start to happen. On the first night, some of the locals were putting on a traditional dance show. They cover themselves in coconut oil as the customary way of showing appreciation for a dance is sticking a dollar or two to the dancers body! Very strange!!

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This only got more hilarious the next night: Wednesday evening, the ‘Bounty Bar’ host ‘Faka’Lati’ night. Just a note on the language here: pretty much everything sounds either made up or offensive. The word for beautiful is ‘Faka’Ofa’Ofa’…pronounced…well…much like something crass you could say to someone who’s annoying you. To say cheers you say ofa atu, meaning ‘I love you’. Faka means ‘like’ so Faka’Lati translates as ‘like a lady’. On Faka’lati night at the Bounty Bar, the transvestites around town (a surprisingly high proportion of the population) have some fun, dress up and dance on stage for the crowds. Again, the tipping took the form of sticking notes on the performers but here they had no oil on so the notes needed to be tucked in anywhere…much like a strip bar! They particularly liked to pick on the uncomfortable looking men who’d been dragged there by their friends/girlfriends -Very funny.

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Around the World/ Let it Rain

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What a crazy journey. Have finally arrived, miraculously with all my luggage, at Nadi. That was potentially the longest single journey I’ve ever done: Night in Newark; Long stopover and surreal brief few hours wandering around LA; a fair stint in Auckland then finally touch down into rainy Fiji.

My first impression is being instantly reminded of Papua New Guinea, with the cloud topped mountains, yet the ‘wilderness’ has been toned down a few notches here. I was able to take a taxi from the airport, for one.

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There appears to have been some kind of mix up. I booked a ‘single’ room so wouldn’t have to force myself to socialise in the wake of the lengthy series of flights… what I have here is a total of two rooms, one bathroom, three double beds and a bunk bed. I appear to be renting out the entire hostel. As I’m only here for two nights and pretty exhausted I decided just to leave the situation – the price isn’t higher than advertised so in that respect it’s fine. It was not their fault about the loss of the extra night so nothing I could do about that. The only issue is that the people running this place must think I have a very high opinion of myself, with a separate bed to rotate between each half-a-day. It took me a good while to stop chuckling to myself about the ridiculousness of the situation.

I, of course, ventured straight out to have a look around. The rain was immaterial given the heat so I simply put my camera in a boat bag (water tight) and walked down to the beach. All the other tourists were huddled in the bar, which I suppose should not come as a surprise by now, which resulted in me having the vast expanse of volcanic beach to myself. Well, there was one exception in the form of a suitably obese local waving at me as he paddled about in the water and tried to entice me to join him.

I walked a fair distance up the beach collecting anything of interest, which mostly consisted of a variety of pretty olive shells and some quirky pods…I didn’t particularly enjoy the slow-motion driving and leering of a few men along the sandy beach-side road – they probably were utterly harmless but I can’t help but be a little on edge as a, fairly vulnerable, lone female! But apart from that it was fantastic to get out into the light rain after the long flights. It started to clear up a little as I walked home.

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Early night for me tonight. Have no idea what body clock I’ve got going on currently, but all that I do know is that it was the 31st of July and it’s now the 2nd August and I’ve had no sleep, so 8pm seems an entirely reasonable bedtime right now!

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Time in a Bottle

It’s been an inordinately long time since I last posted. It seems considerably easier to write when I’m travelling by myself. In addition to this I had a fairly major set back at the beginning of the summer of 2014 in Alicante, on the east coast of Spain. So, reflecting on this, here’s a a few pointers on how NOT to take a holiday:

1. Fly Ryan Air (although I must admit ,at this point, that I have done this since. So hard to resist those low prices! Naturally, they are low for a reason.)

2. Pack far more than you really need for the trip. Including vast amounts of valuables and electrics.

3. Proceed to leave all of you belongings in a convenient bundle, fully in sight. To save time, why not place an advertisement at the front of the property:

“passport, phone, laptop, travel money, wallet, ipod, extensive precious jewellery collection, kindle, SLR camera + telephoto lens. – available here at exclusively non-existent prices, simply time your arrival to ensure you can ‘purchase’ these items when the generous donor is absent. (crowbar not included)”

4. Run out for help barefoot in a towel on realising your donation has been accepted.

5. Have faith in the Spanish police

6. Have faith in the British Embassy

7. PANIC.

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However, I do feel that a certain amount of bad luck is inevitable whilst travelling. The key is how you manage it. Of course, it was not just me affected by this burglary, and without the help and assistance of the kind family I was travelling with I’m not sure how I would have managed. I let my guard down, feeling secure in this scenario, but I would have struggled significantly more had I been alone when it happened. I now believe I’d have a little more composure were it to happen again. It also is highly advantageous to have a helpful insurance policy. Swings and roundabouts, silver-linings etc etc

Now, as I had to withdraw from the delightful prospect of a following trip to Menorca, due to lack of passport, my next venture overseas was our family summer-break to Limoges, France. Shiny new passport in tow, we headed to a beautiful reconstructed barn complex where the entire side of my mothers family amassed for general chaos and frivolity (leaning a little more toward the chaos).

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An idyllic, tranquil part of France, with all of the trimmings you’d expect (great weather, food, pastries, markets etc). I’m going to swiftly move on, however, to the end of the summer. As a group of six school friends we headed to Lisbon for around four days to soak up some sun, some culture but more importantly each other’s company.

First thing that I feel needs to be said: be warned with luggage in Lisbon – it is extremely hilly! It is, However, a great little city to get away to for a short break. Very atmospheric and charming (helped, perhaps unfortunately, by the dilapidated state of many of the buildings). I’ll leave the explanation up to a small selection of photos. This post seems to be encroaching upon the ‘overly-long’ side of things so I’ll continue the catch up in a following edition!

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Have You Fed The Fish?

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“Flowers… are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty outvalues all the utilities of the world.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Last day in Tokyo 😦 I headed out in the early morning to the Tsukiji fish market, following a recommendation from my lonely planet guide book. It was incredibly easy to find, all I needed to do was follow the locals with their large empty baskets, bikes and lorries! It is absolutely gargantuan, undoubtedly the largest fish market I’ve ever seen (and by quite a considerable amount). There were the most bizarre sea creatures for sale in the dingy light including sea cucumbers, urchins and many things that I couldn’t recognise. Men were carving up enormous tuna steaks with what looked like swords and live fish and shell fish scuttled about in every direction. Many stalls had sashimi for sale at quite a price: could only be fresher if the fish was actually eaten whilst alive. Not really my cup of tea!

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Striking buckets full of huge tuna heads, can’t quite get the full scale here.

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After stopping at a bakery, to munch on a rather more appealing steamed chocolate bun made into a bear face, we headed out to Shinjuku in an attempt to find a novelty goods store (mainly thinking of Karl Pilkington’s ‘crisp picker’). We tried out ‘Tokyu Hands’ which, similar to ‘the Loft’ which I tried out in Shibuya, is like a department store which starts to hint at the crazy novelties that we were after. Llama mascara, anyone?

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Looking for bedside table decorations? Jellyfish in a jar should hit the spot. This one's upside down and looking incredibly sorry for itself.

Looking for bedside table decorations? Jellyfish in a jar should hit the spot. This one’s upside down and looking incredibly sorry for itself.

Mount Fuji fancy dress...

Mount Fuji fancy dress…

Final stop of the trip was the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. It didn’t disappoint. Stacked full of the later blooming kind of blossom, it was simply breathtaking. The highlight has to be the traditional Japanese style part of the garden, with a couple of tea houses:

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Trimming the shaped trees

Trimming the shaped trees

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Man staring in disbelief at a cat...quite amusing.

Man staring in disbelief at a cat…quite amusing.

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After a fantastic last day I’m now sat wasting time in Beijing airport…home soon!

 

Last supper (actually breakfast) in Tokyo Haneda airport - finally found some edamame beans.

Last supper (actually breakfast) in Tokyo Haneda airport – finally found some edamame beans.

Song To A Seagull

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“The human tongue is like wasabi: it’s very powerful, and should be used sparingly.”

― John Green, Paper Towns

It is absolutely freezing here in Matsushima: Really arctic winds making you constantly wish that someone would invent some sort of nose warmer. We headed out to wander about the area, noticing the complete lack of tourists and, therefore, English. Menus yet again became some sort of guessing game. Last night I had the weirdest array of different types of seafood including some sort of fringed grey thing and a yellow mollusc, I presume, which looked (and tasted) disturbingly like an ear.

We took a trip around the bay in a boat, the highlight of which was the hilarious translation on the hand out we were given:

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It says “It becomes troubled of other customers, and never never put out the customer of a pet taking from the cage, please while embarking.” … Right. That’s clear then. No taking the pet from the cage.

Another amusing moment was over lunch where we eventually managed to order some tuna rolls (following much pointing and miming) then literally were brought to tears by the amount of wasabi jammed into the little pieces. Hot doesn’t seem quite the right word. It feels more like some sort of acid explosion right the way up through your head to your nose and eyes. I have actually acclimatised a little to the Japanese way of sushi: I couldn’t stand wasabi or ginger before, now I’m partial to a little wasabi and there’s never enough ginger. This was far too much however. I left feeling as if my sinuses had just had some sort of toxic probing.

Here's the inconspicuous culprit. Little did we know that little atomic bombs were hidden in each little gem.

Here’s the inconspicuous culprit. Little did we know that atomic bombs were hidden in each little gem.

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We later took the bright red bridges out onto a couple of the islands were elaborate caves and Buddhist shrines have been carved into the sandstone. We also popped into the Masamune museum, Masamune is widely recognised as Japan’s greatest swordsmith, reaching legendary status. I’d never actually heard of him before.

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Finally, the seagulls are worth a mention. There are the most ridiculously large number of them packed into such a small area. And they’re all incredibly vocal.

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I Can See Clearly Now

Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson went on a camping trip. During the night Holmes woke up, nudged his faithful friend saying, “Watson, I want you to look up at the sky and tell me what you see.”

Watson replied, “I see the stars.”

“And what does that tell you?” Sherlock continued.

After pondering the question Watson deduced: “Astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three in the morning. Metereologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day today. What does it tell you?”

Holmes considered this for a while then retorted: “My dear Watson, someone has stolen our tent.”

Well there’s a slightly irrelevant joke for the day…

We’re now camping in a little town called Bonito in South West Brazil. We set out to snorkel down the nearby Rio da Prata bright and early this morning and were the first nine people in the river. The water was absolutely phenomenal. By far the clearest water I’ve ever seen, with visibility of up to 40 metres! Despite the lack of colour, the fish were enormous, some up to a metre and a half in length, and in very large numbers. I got a bit of a fright when I spotted some scaled skin right next to me and realised I was right next to a Caiman crocodile, poking its eyes out of the water. It was really bizarre seeing it from an underwater perspective – they’re not quite as inconspicuous!

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Hit The Road Jack

“Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former. “
Albert Einstein

We went to see the new Les Miserables film on the 27th. It was spectacular – really did the musical proud. I hope Hugh Jackman gets the Oscar for it. We then headed out on the 28th on our trip down to Sydney, stopping first in the hippy haven known as Byron Bay. One of the highlights was a man cycling round with a stall selling coconuts. Fantastic. A storm started brewing over the beach so we moved on (after getting a thorough soaking) to a beautiful little coastal town called Yamba which was decidedly less busy! At night we drove down to our YHA hostel in Cops Harbour but came and went like ghosts in the night, leaving early in the morning to get down to Port Stephens in good time. It was there that I finally met Wendy (the lady who helped to set up my volunteering in PNG). She whisked us away to her ‘sand pit’: a national park consisting of a vast expanse of sand dune, where we had another crack at sand boarding before rinsing off in the sea. Hannah and I did a fantastic yoga session on the beach which was quite amusing considering the strange looks we were getting from the fleets of tourists.

That morning we popped out on a, rather cheesy, camel ride which was nevertheless good fun before heading on our way once more. We arrived in Sydney just after lunch to an extremely welcoming household. We’re staying with Aunt Sally’s friend Libby and her family in Northern Sydney, a short train journey from the central city so an ideal location for us! We headed out in the car to have a look around and got very excited crossing Harbour Bridge for the first time and seeing the view of the opera house! We stopped off at Bondi beach. Over the trip we’ve been making a compilation of ‘jump’ shot photographs in different places so had a go jumping off a ledge around a metre and a half high onto the sand. It was the most hilarious stupidity I’ve been party to in a while. Kieran jumped off and the sand was surprisingly hard so he twisted both of his ankles badly. I idiotically followed a while after and jumped even higher, giving little thought to the landing as it didn’t appear to be too far down. I landed on a rock and, apart from twisting both of my ankles, seriously jammed my knee resulting in an inability to walk for the rest of the day. Useful. Even after this Anna then jumped off as well and jammed her ankles too. How hilariously ridiculous.

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