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Posts Tagged ‘Round the World’

Pina. Dirty.

23 January, 2009 3 comments

The Po Lin monastery on the island of Lantau just off Hong Kong is a peaceful and spiritual place. It is the home of the the monks and, in ’93 they inaugurated the Big Buddha which is big and… a buddha.

However, despite all that tranquility, I had not expected the following conversation while at the vegetarian cafe in the monastery and looking for somewhere to relieve myself.

“Here, I show” says the old man who’s just come out of the kitchens and is clearly heading in the same direction.

“You go here” he says, gesticulating towards a cubicle. I feel honoured he’s picked out this one for me especially. Naturally there isn’t a toilet seat… that’s a westernised thing of bringing in something which purports to be cleaner and better, but actually is less clean and not so good for your bowels. like wearing trunks in a sauna. anyway, i digress. … but the lack of toilet seat isn’t an issue as I only need to… er… do a number 1. (was going to say “have a waz” but caught myself using 1980s slang and showing my age)

I do my business. He does his and finishes first. We meet again at the wash basin. I want to say “how nice to see you again” or “that was indeed a most splendid cubicle, thank you” but know that smart-arse attempts at wit will be met with incomprehension.

He washes his hands. I mine. Then the conversation takes an unusual turn:

“Wash, wash”

I am confused and don’t move.

“wash” he repeats, “dirty”. Now, I was brought up well and always wash my hands. Plus, he’s just seen me wash them in front of him. Ok, so there’s no soap, but you can’t be fussy. What on earth’s he still on about??

“Dirty. Wash. Dirty,” he keeps going. This time gesturing towards my flies. Oh no, think I, have I split something? been a little messy? are my flies undone? is it traditional to wash your zip, perhaps.

“dirty,” he repeats, with more insistence in his voice “Pina. Dirty. Wash.”

What? what the hell are you on about old man…. oh… hold on…

“Pina dirty. Wash,” and this time his hand nudges me in the base of my spine. “Wash pina.” again, more vigorously pushing my groin towards the basin and at the same time gesturing with his other hand.

As the penny drops it flits across my mind to say “after you” but think the resulting images could have ruined my entire trip and leave me scarred for life. Is it normal to wash your nether regions after urinating? in a public toilet? in the hand basin? Admittedly the height was about right for me, but I suspect my.. er.. host might have had to be on tip toes. Perhaps they have a little bank of steps, like in a library, for the smaller races to get up to the right height. But if this was the case, don’t you think somewhere as resourceful and ingenious as China would have designed a hand basin which had a special outcrop to enable the easy ablution of the old chap? And what the hell happens in the ladies’ loo? do they have little baths that extend?

Ok, I conclude in a moment’s thought, this is not right. Perhaps the old chap (not mine) is just having me on. But he looks so serious. having said that, I can’t tell whether he’s smiling or not, he has so many creases on his face. Would it be insulting to refuse? Will it really be much of a problem for me to acquiesce? I suppose I could, but my shorts will get wet and anyway, will he turn his back?… I catch myself thinking the unthinkable and I decide to fall back on the old British response to anything culturally confusing / alarming: polite refusal.

“No thanks,” I respond, and not wanting to seem dismissive of his local approach to local cleanliness, I still can’t quite believe I added “Yes, you’re right, dirty pina, but I’ll take care of that when I get home. Thank you.”

Gulliver’s disinfected boots

17 December, 2008 Leave a comment

A very long day… I got up on Tuesday morning, went out to Valparaiso on the Chilean coast and looked out across the pacific towards NZ. When I got back to Santiago, just had time to pack and have a beer with the expats before getting in a taxi to the airport.

It’s now 0600 on Thursday morning and I’m on the same day. Grabbed a few hours of sleep on the LAN  flight (decent food, good service, nice seat, nice neighbour… shame about the film selection. Hellboy 2 the stand out, del Toro is outstanding, can’t wait for his Hobbit) and now am standing at the Samsung shop’s online terminal watching israelis opposite me do web searches for hotels to stay in Auckland. Boots may have lava damage, but are now v clean after BioSecurity clean-up.

I have the luck of staying with the lovely Kate Marshall today/tonight and then rendezvousing with the equally lovely Adrian Law tomorrow (better golf, worse legs) … it’s so nice to have such welcoming friends.

Immediate observation on the Auckland Airport inhabitants: I have switched from a Mayan land of miniature, round faced people, to a Polynesian land of supersized roundfaced people.  One flight has turned the gulliver experience on its head.

Location update

28 November, 2008 Leave a comment

left Campemente Vincente today, a small place with cabanas and communal eating, and wildlife (see below) which was near Bonampak and Yaxchilan. Bonampak, not so much, Yaxchilan excellent. No problems with Guatemalan border control. The officer thought i spoke spanish… yes, the accent on my buenos dias, i learn it from a booook, was excellent. Am currently in Flores, staying the night on a road. in the middle of it as far as the noise in the room is. but on the hotel balcony there is a stunning view of the lake. And tomorrow to Tikal where i shall stay in the the Jaguar hotel for a few days before heading to Belize to get my diving gear on. ttfn.

Seattle-ites

24 November, 2008 Leave a comment

I think I mentioned i met a very nice bunch of Seattle artists in Oaxaca and went to their gallery exhibition. A lovely evening was had by all… and thanks so much to Deborah Caplow, who organised their trip but also invited me along to the evening opening, and who knows a thing or two about art and mexican-ness. Her picks of the trip are here.

Going dark-ish

18 November, 2008 Leave a comment

First post for a few days, and tomorrow probably going on a 5 day trip into the jungle. Apparently they don’t have any wifi there (yet – someone in brazil was developing self-sustaining solar-powered wifi pods which you can put on the top of trees and they daisy chain to each other using mesh tech).

Yesterday got into San Cristobal de las Casas at 0830 and spent the day mooching. Actually, spent the morning wandering around, talking to a local guide/tour company who offers me a range of trips, all touristy and says ‘unfortunately everyone wants to do something off the beaten track. but off the beaten track causes certain security and social issues’ (i paraphrase). In other words, don’t go hill walking on your own, and many of the local villages will take umbrage to tourists. so, had a snooze and spent the afternoon wondering what the hell i was doing in this cold, damp, one-pony town where there was nothing to see and little to do. Also wishing i was better at spanish. But then it all changes round so fast… a walk to the local Ecotourism Explora centre and suddenly there’s an interesting guided trek to do – pricey but good. On the way back I find Koniki, a funky little Salon de Te, record shop, cafe and independent cinema. with wifi. and i get chatting to Don (dallas) and his gf Caitlin (Pennsylvania) who are medics up on a break from their clinic in the middle of nowhere in El Salvador. Cue discussion of presidents, hope, travel, empires, central american poverty and revolution. Oh, and immigration/emigration. Fact: whereas an estimated 20-25m mexicans live in the US (a population of around 100m in MX itself), a whopping one third of the population of El Salvador lives in the US. It’s a country of 8m and another 2.5 live in the states. Very pleasant people.

Back to the hotel, in much better mood and with a plan for today. Early bed with lots of blankets (SC is at 2100m and the clouds came in yesterday afternoon so temperature is a modest 10degrees according to the ayersometer).

So, am currently in net cafe on a machine that has got 29 viruses and a trojan, but with quick access – and will spend the next hour researching flights from Guatemala to Santiago, and from Honduras to Santiago. The diving’s much better and cheaper in Honduras they say – and although the blue hole of Belize attracts me, not as much as trying out Honduras.

Expected rest of itinerary looking like: a week or so travelling to Bonampak, Yaxchilan, Palenque and then over into Guatemala to Flores and Tikal. Then, from there, it’s either over to Belize and head to the coast for diving and back to Antigua, Guatemala City and fly out to Santiago, or Tikal down to Antigua then fly to Honduras for some diving and from there on to Santiago. Unless, of course, i decide that Cuba is just too attractive. Decisions, decisions.

Either way, likely to be online a bit less, so ttfn.

I’m in (iPhone) heaven

15 November, 2008 1 comment

Picking up hotel wifi connections, taking decent quality pictures which can then be sent straight to flickr, playing me my ‘get by in spanish’ course, playing random tunes from it’s surprisingly dcent quality speaker and… my favourite new thing: I can record audio in decent enough quality using the iTalk app.

Last night recorded a xylopohne band, some traditional music, and a 10-man street party band. 

De Botton’s point, echoing Ruskin, in Art of Travel is that we should not so much seek to possess the beauty and the experience of travel by relinquishing all our attentive capabilities to modern technology – and i totally agree. In my photography I have always tried to capture just enough of the feeling of a moment or a place so that it will act as a fulfilling psychological prompt.

But the beauty of this one device is that it has just given me a new way, through audio, to retain the experience and re-live it at a later date.

I took heed of Mr Fry’s advice but have no need of a laptop. And forgetting the charger for my camera is, in a way, a godsend as it forces me to be even more economical with time and my attempts to capture experience.

There are problems of course – the processor just isn’t powerful enough to handle this blog page – and so i have to revert to the “tradition” of the net cafe – for example. But for now, it’s a blessing.

Blociador Soledad

15 November, 2008 2 comments

I was going into the Farmacia to find “numero cuarenta” (factor 40) … but they have Factoro Cinquanta !!! Stunned and delighted. That’s factor 50. It actually just reflects the sun. They use it on the hull of the space shuttle.

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