Gimme Shelter

“The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men,

Gang aft agley,

An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,

For promis’d joy!”

   – From ‘To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough’ by Robert Burns

 Plan: 20:15 transfer flight from Thailand – Tucked up in bed in pre-booked accommodation in Yangon by 9:30 after a long couple of days travelling.

Reality: Wandering round the streets of Bangkok in the rain at 11 at night, alone, luggage in tow trying to find a place to spend the night.

How did this happen?  Well. I think it’s fair to say that I’ve had a ‘testing’ day.

I arrived into Bangkok airport, frail and exhausted, at around 6 o’clock local time after two long flights and a transit period in Delhi. The ‘jet airways’ Indian plane food had not made the experience any easier on my stomach. I won’t go into detail on that point. I head straight to the transfer desk stopping to inquire first that my luggage was going to be on the flight – I didn’t want a repeat of Rio. The young women at the desk promptly told me, with smiles on their faces I may add, that I wouldn’t be allowed to enter the country without a visa. What the hell was all of that bollocks I read about a ‘Visa On Arrival’? Absolute nightmare. Clearly my thorough research had been outdated or just plain wrong.

At this stage I had a minor break down as all the difficulties this presented became apparent to me: I would need to go and get a Visa from the Myanmar embassy in the city tomorrow. Of course they gave no helpful information such as how long this might take or where it was – they just guessed a couple of days. I therefore managed to push my case firmly enough to get my flight rescheduled for two days time. I then frantically headed off to find internet – calling the hotel I’d booked to warn them of my delayed arrival as I went.

The major problem in all this was the complete lack of English spoken. In fact, as my story develops the language barrier becomes increasingly crippling. This is actually the first time I’ve been to a country which doesn’t have a European-based first language (or places where pretty much everyone speaks English anyway) so I felt completely isolated.

I found out that it was in fact possible to get a visa in one day – with lots of queuing and a day spent at the embassy to look forward to but I couldn’t really be picky at this stage. So I hurried to the arrivals (being now shut off from the previous desk that’d been ‘helping’ me) and after 10 minutes of frantic searching found someone who could change my flight again to tomorrow.

Great. Well now at least I only had one night in a strange city to worry about. As far as strange cities go, Bangkok is pretty outstanding. It seems like a scene out of a vivid nightmare – a chaotic mesh of roads crossing over each other in the mess and rain. Taxi’s are the least of the evils but even then, you can’t be sure that you’re not about to re-enact ‘taken’ – but crucially without Liam Neeson and his ‘particular set of skills’. I looked up a hotel near the embassy, gave the name to a taxi driver and off we went.

Of course, it’s never that simple. He took me to a different hotel with a similar name. I’d even pointed at a map! It became increasingly apparent that even the taxi drivers don’t have a clue about places in the city. So I had to appeal to another non-English speaking lady at the reception of a hotel miles away from where I needed to be with a price tag as high as Mount Everest on the rooms per night. She thankfully helped me to order another taxi which, of course, had no Idea what I was talking about. I eventually managed to break through with ‘Myanmar embassy’ so we headed there where he promptly dropped me in the middle of nowhere.

Here we are back where I started. I did manage to find a hostel eventually, thank-god. Fingers crossed that tomorrow will be easier.

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Ironically this is the hostel I’ve sought shelter in. Not really feeling the love right now. Forgive the absence of photos – have not really felt it appropriate to whack out the camera as of yet.

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I’m Lonely (But I Ain’t That Lonely Yet)

Time Flies

We’re led to believe

But it’s us that fly

Time sits on its hands

As we rush by

 – Roger McGough

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Apologies for the tardiness of this post; I’ve been largely bed-ridden with a horrific bug over the past week.

Panama has rushed past in a blur of alcohol and beaches. Our first stop was the Caribbean archipelago, ‘Bocas Del Toro’. It’s easy to hop on water taxis between the different islands, surf, walk through the national parks or just soak up the laid-back Caribbean pace of life which has now become so familiar. On ‘Colón’, the amusingly named main Island, there are some fantastic places to eat including a little sushi bar called ‘Raw’ with half price sushi and Martinis between 4 and 6. Ideal. I’d definitely recommend a lychee Martini if anyone’s not yet had the pleasure. They also had novel chalk-boards in place of mats which was a refreshing alternative to pre-dinner conversation!

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There’s also plenty of fun to be had exploring the rather eccentric island nightlife. Most bars/clubs (well, places to dance) have integrated the sea into the structure of their building, with large areas cut out of the decking for people to swim in the beautifully warm sea below. I particularly enjoyed ‘Aqua lounge’ on the nearby island which had swings into the water and ‘El Barco hundido’ (The sunken ship) with floating dance platforms over a shipwreck. It’s fantastically weird to be able to dive down and pick up a starfish off the sea-bed in the middle of a bar!

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I’m afraid I don’t have much to report on our next stop, Boquete, in the Panamanian mountains. To be perfectly honest I wasn’t particularly taken with the place. It was largely made up of a community of retired couples and ex-pats. I wasn’t overly disappointed that this was where my illness started to kick in. The nine hour journey to Panama city was somewhat less convenient.

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All of my travelling companions having gone their separate ways, I’m now alone in the rather daunting capital city…although it is nice to have my own room for the first time in three months!

Born To Be Wild

A Brush With Authority

I had a brush with authority

Not only did it tell me

What to paint and when

But also which colours to use.

– Roger McGough

Unfortunately, so far I have been rather frustrated by the tourist industry in Costa Rica. The raw country itself is simply beautiful but is spoilt by the high price tags on activities/entrance into ‘natural’ areas, not forgetting the large numbers of tourists. In comparison to the rest of Central America it has the highest number of tourists and (undoubtedly as a result of this) it is by far the most expensive.

Another thing that greatly frustrates me is the ridiculous obsession with health and safety concerning any activities, for example rafting, rappelling, even walking! I personally get frustrated when I’m told what I can and can’t wear in my free time. They are my toes. If I want to run the risk of stubbing them (which I have already done) then I will bloody well do so. This stubbornness runs back to my childhood when I would refuse to wear a raincoat out, insisting that I had the right to risk getting cold if I wanted to!! Of course, though, they have to introduce these obligations to prevent people from suing them when they injure themselves – the whole system is just ridiculous.

Anyway, on arriving into La Fortuna I decided against any organised events and did not particularly relish the idea of paying to see a waterfall so I went out for a walk into the countryside where I stumbles across this magical little place:

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A large waterfall pool off the side of the road where the illusive locals were out enjoying themselves. The pool was incredibly deep, perfect for diving into and, what’s more, they had tied a rope swing onto one edge resulting in a terrifying but adrenaline pumping ‘Tarzan’ swing into the water.

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The bovine locals looking inquisitively at a sopping wet gringo heading back towards town with a smile on her face…

 

Having Wings

In Good Hands

 Wherever night falls

 The earth is always

 There to catch it.

-Roger McGough

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My last night in South America did not pass particularly smoothly. Two girls in the group were getting the same early morning flight as me so we decided to share a room in the hotel. However when we came down to meet everyone at reception we discovered that they had already left so ended up wandering around La Paz for two hours trying to find them in order to say goodbye! Bye some miracle we did eventually stumble across them but it was a bit of a nightmare in one of the most reknowned paces for crime targeted at tourists in the dark and rain!

After three hours sleep I embarked on my bizarre day of flights: Firstly flying to Lima then El Salvador, Guatemala then finally Mexico City with absolutely no room for error; one of the connections was only 25 minutes long! As you could imagine I was highly dubious that this erratic series was going to flow smoothly, but miraculously I arrived in Mexico city last night in one peace AND, far exceeding my expectations, with my luggage! Hallelujah!

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Flying over the beautiful snow-capped Andes.

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Flying in over Mexico city was fantastically exciting. Had to get a shot out of the window but this doesn’t quite capture the city’s competition with the stars as much as I would have liked!

My flight to Cancun leaves this afternoon so on arriving, I headed straight over to the airport Hilton where Mum had kindly booked for me to stay for a night as a treat (and also to avoid the highly dangerous city!) It was such a fantastic surprise! I was so excited at the unprecedented luxury that I was running around the room taking photos of the king sized bed and complimentary shampoos.

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Refreshed by the best nights sleep I’ve had since I left home (thanks Mum!) I headed out into the city the following morning. My airport ‘authorised’ taxi was extortionately expensive. Apparently there are a large number of assaults occurring in ‘non-official’ taxis so the airport get away with charging an arm and a leg. My taxi back in a local perfectly reasonable-looking taxi cost a quarter of the price. Anyway, I went to the main plaza which is the third largest city square in the world. Unfortunately it had large marquees set up in it completely ruining any photo opportunity. The cathedral was particularly stunning, whetting my appetite for the historical sites to come on my trip!

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Touch Of Madness

The Concise Guide For Travellers

  1. For covering long distances travel is a must.
  2. Destinations are ideal places to head for.
  3. By the time you get there abroad will have moved on.
  4. To avoid jet lag travel the day before.
  5. If you cross the equator go back and apologize.
  6. If you meet an explorer you are lost.

Roger  McGough – ‘The State Of Poetry’

Underdog

I’m now teaching the grade fours: ages ranging from 11 to 13. Although interestingly quite a few of the children don’t actually know how old they are; their parents didn’t keep track! With my three classes today I set them assignments in their English lesson to write poems about their favourite animals or their responsibilities at home (depending on which class they were in). Quite a few made little, if any, sense but overall I was pleasantly surprised with what they managed to come up with. Here’s my favourite:

Only A Dog

Oh Mum and Dad…

Every night I guard

you while you are

fast asleep.

Every day we go hunting

for wild meat.

Yet you forget me.

Yesterday Verena introduced me to a German volunteer a year older than me called Phillip who’s working in publishing here for a year. We’re planning a bush hike for the weekend – not sure whether leaving tonight or tomorrow morning – but I will not be able to post until we’re back. That is if we make it back: The more I learn about this country the more I see how completely sated with crime it is! (I’ve been learning some fascinating details about the sorcery and witchcraft beliefs here – will write a post on that subject soon.) Phillip’s a black belt in karate though so that could come in handy in a sticky situation!