Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Maybe Tomorrow..... I'll find my way home!

I woke very early to catch the airport shuttle and had a slurred goodbye with a sleepy Penny before starting the first leg of my return journey. I flew from Krabi to Bangkok and grabbed a taxi to Khao san road the site of my transition from West to East and checked into my overpriced and dramatically so-so room on the strip. I had lunch at a redecorated Silk bar where they were playing the Labyrinth in Thai which, as I have yet to see it in English, was a very difficult concept to follow. When I was trying to keep myself busy and avoid those bloody grabby tailors I went in search of street food and I bumped into Korean Rachel from my room in Koh Phangan, which was an odd coincidence (odder still when I found out we met in Queenstown several weeks earlier and she made me do drunk press ups). I went for a swim about an hour before the rooftop pool closed at my hotel and I was naive to think that in the cooling Bangkok evening the pool would be heated. I knocked out a few hastily sprinted laps which ended up being just to keep warm as fitness was abandoned. I watched License to Kill which is one of my favourite Bond films and then hoped very much for a long sleep, but as usual it was broken. 

I mulled around in the room before packing and hitting the Khao San for breakfast. It was around 8.30am and there was already a very pissed Englishman who couldn’t pay for the beer he had ordered and was yelling at passers by for assistance. This embodied everything I dislike about tourism both in developing countries and not. It may seem like I got to Thailand and decided to have a long moan but to an extent that is fair, it’s just very sad that such a beautiful place has been torn to pieces and rewoven for the western world to take advantage of. I checked out and got a long and thoroughly soothing massage and did some light shopping for the family. I tried to buy my older brother a fake Spanish league team replica top, as he likes that sort of thing, but the Thai folk advertised a reasonable looking one but when it came to sale time that one went away and a truly terrible one emerged for the same price, so that was that. I bought a pre-film paperback copy of ‘The Beach’ and grabbed a light snack and a beer. The snacks never came so I left the beer money under my mug and slipped out, especially as I was sat next to some very dodgy Thai pool hustlers betting obscene amounts per game of pool with each other. I grabbed a foot massage in the hot falling sun featuring an overpriced beer and it was a lovely way to end my Bangkok experience, or so I thought. I bought a beer in my hotels coffee shop and waited till the raw shriek of airport in the makeshift outdoor reception to summon me to my carriage. I was lead down some Bangkok alleyways to the bus, as is the custom, with some very talkative Germans. On the bus, in thick Bangkok traffic, I reminisced on how great a trip I had but how happy I was to be going home to surprise the family for Christmas. The Germans continued to chat away in their first tongue and my understanding of the language kept me thoroughly entertained especially when words such as ‘opium shake’, ‘opium tea’, ‘kopf schmerzen’ and ‘sheisse’ broke through the monotone. After this quite enjoyable time I started to panic, I had been advised by the travel agent to get the later bus but was now caught in almost unmoving traffic. We managed about two hundred metres in forty minutes and then I like my bus comrades started to really worry about making my flight. I conveyed my concerns to the cute Danish girl opposite and we helped increase the others anxiety by constantly cursing at traffic or the endless red lights. After sitting in traffic for a further ninety minutes I was still within walking distance of the hotel and seriously considered going back and throttling that bitch who told me to take the later bus. We finally got a break in traffic and we set off at alarming speed and proximity to the car in front. We ended up making it with plenty of time thanks to the dangerously fast veering in and out of traffic the driver did with some level of expertise. 

I checked in to my flight and went through to security where a Thai kid did what Thai people do best and walked past all the people waiting at security to the front of the queue, to the disgust of all the westerners who muttered there distain. I however took the high road and when the kid hadn’t removed the ridiculous amount of metal on his person and his bag was stopped at x-ray I grassed him up and he was taken for extra screening. I wandered through the overpriced food court and went to the gate. I had my bag researched at the gate and I was patted down my a little Thai lady, with no happy ending. It was a little bemusing that they don’t trust their own security earlier in proceedings but as there was a bomb attack three days in earlier in the capital I didn’t complain. The flight was reasonable with an old school entertainment system. I watched Home Alone to get in the festive spirit and then had a Grants whisky to get into the real spirits. I sat a space apart from a Dutch girl who ordered a cosure meal but as they forgot to heat it she got the non-heated part of that meal and a whole regular meal and decided to share with me to create a combined feast, which left me stuffed. We arrived at Mumbai, where it was 28C at 12.30am, and went through the bother of a international transfer. Basically the metal detectors were redundant as they fail everyone regardless of metal on your person and you have to go through to a more vigorous pat down and hand held metal detector scan.  When the circus was over I checked the exchange rate and finding it dramatically in British favour with 92 rupees to the pound, I headed to duty free where I got a litre bottle of Captain Morgans rum for US$10. I continued my tour of Mumbai airport and saw a British Indian guy lose it at KFC and scream at a guy about chicken then went and waited for my flight to be called.  It was a quick turn around and I spent most of the home leg sleeping which made me grateful I had selected a red eye. When I got out of customs, which included a quick change into warmer clothes, I avoided the touting of the Heathrow Express at a whopping £18 and got the tube to the same destination for £5 and with time to kill was a much better idea. It’s quite funny one of the reasons I left for this trip was that I was bored of the same types of people as well as the buildings but it was that rogue individualism and charm that makes Britons different to the rest of the world and made me happy to return.

I got to Paddington three hours before my train and decided that instead of risking a penalty fair and getting an earlier train I settled into the Fullers pub; The Mad Bishop and Bear (a pub I know very well) for some breakfast and rest bite from being constantly on the move. I was pleased to think that in six hours I would be home. The festivities from Heathrow to Paddington had ignited my attraction to Christmas and I couldn’t wait to get involved. I devoured a full English breakfast and then did something very British, no I didn’t invade any country, drunkenly destroy property or impregnate a single mother of twelve, I ordered a pot of tea, sat back and enjoyed. When I was done, all too quickly, I wandered around looking for something to do, even embarking on a trip outside of the station, to no avail. I ended in WH Smith reading the foreword and first chapter of the biography Madeline McCann’s disappearance by her parents. It was dangerously obsessive with their self preservation rather than what had happened and left me once more wondering why, in leaving the kids home alone while they had dinner, they had not been done for neglect. I mean if they were a working class family they probably would have lost their other two kids and been charged.  I mulled on this thought as I return to the main station and people watched until boredom once again set in. This time I considered changing my ticket to an earlier train but when they told me it cost almost the same as the initial ticket cost I didn’t bother and returned to people watching. They may be the cause of a number of my grumbles but British people and people in British surroundings are an interesting and entertaining bunch that is so different from anywhere else. I had a few mulled ciders when the pub could start serving alcohol just to keep me warm and pass the time before boarding the quiet coach of the Swansea bound train. Unfortunately the oldies had taken it back and either got in the way or voided the quiet coach by moaning for half the journey about the minimal luggage space. Knowing it was two and a half hours to Cardiff on the express train made me feel better, all I needed now was some rest.

It wouldn’t come so I started reading The Beach in the weak winter sunshine as it flickered between trees and buildings into the carriage. We got held up by signal issues near Reading and an apologetic but familiar tone came over the intercom, an unmistakable Swansea accent. It started to sink in that I was going back to Wales and it made me smile briefly before returning my concentration to my book.  I got into Cardiff and got a quick connection to Penarth, from which I walked the four hundred or so metres in Nick Burkes house to set up my surprise return. After catching up with Nick he called my house as a wrong number to check if anyone was in and make sure I didn’t freeze on the doorstep, and he got the answering machine, so much for the return of the conquering hero (*disclaimer this was not an imperialistic voyage and I failed to conquer much else than climbing a few mountains and swimming a few lakes). This continued for the next four hours so Nick and I disappeared to the pub, eventually we got through and I showed up on the doorstep unannounced three days before Christmas. My sister opened the door and when the initial shock wore off she burst into tears, my mother showed similar signs of shock and when my father fell in a little squiffy in preparation for his Christmas party I got a solitary ‘What are you doing here?’ This was followed by a hug, which is a rare sign of affection from the big guy. I spoke to one of my aunties and my grandfather as news spread through the family of my return. It was the surprise I wanted but I was lagging terribly from fatigue, lack of sleep and the number of time barriers I had crossed. I caught the football then quickly passed out in bed.

I didn’t sleep long; a mere seven hours and I woke still feeling the tired pinch from behind my eyes. I sat up in my dark room not knowing where I was. As the light settled and my eyes adjusted my room appeared and what seemed like several minutes later my brain converted my presence to my location. I thought that I could hear Penny snoring in the dark, a noise I feel will haunt me until I am well rested. I put my TV on at 5.30am and got up at 6am to review my last six months on the road.

It was exactly what I expected and nothing that I could have predicted. I rode the emotional rollercoaster from the highest highs to some dark and tired lows. In the USA we ventured from coast to coast meeting old friends and making new ones and with a splash of drinking too much I was re-engaged with humility and adventure. We saw the highest peaks, the deepest lakes and vast expanses of openness that the country has to offer. I walked a similar path but took different turns that lead me to the furthest reaches and also a mixture of fleeting and permanent beauty, both in people and scenery. In Fiji I saw what I imagined paradise was and made friends that a week in bliss shouldn’t be able to develop, but the bond of the hobbit card, the 2am drums and a loathing but constant participation of the Bula dance created. I swam with sharks, mantarays and sea snakes with out fear, and was terrified by diving into a dark underwater cave that brought about such an unimaginable awesome experience.

In New Zealand I saw the Welsh rugby team go so far but fall short to the rugby community’s jubilation and horror. I stayed with family friends and distant friends that showed me such kindness that I wish to repay one day. I hitch hiked, commandeered a boat and called English referee Wayne Barnes a dickhead much to the pleasure of the travelling Wales fans. I travelled the length of both Islands taking in what the country had to offer from luging and hot spas to glaciers and lakes. I was prodded for every penny and occasionally treated like a refugee (Christchurch airport) but like John Mcleod once wrote
"It's the journey that's important, Not the getting there!"
In Australia we indulged the tourist experience and saw some of my Fiji friends which was like never skipping a beat. Thailand showed me that this world of ours is getting smaller and easier to get to. I enjoyed the bustle of south East Asia but I was also saddened of the bastardisation by the west. Although I had my grievances with the commercialisation I did enjoy Thailand, especially raving at the Full Moon party with an array of new friends, becoming locals at a hotel in Krabi and enjoying the stunning natural beauty of ‘The Beach’ and other surrounding islands around Phi Phi with great company.

On this trip spanning a reasonable proportion of the world I have camped in sub-zero temperatures and slept in hotter than hell rooms. I have re-established old friendships and learnt more from them in two days than over the course of our friendships. I discovered more about the world we live in and how it operates and how people live and what they do well and mostly don’t.

I witnessed some natural and man based effects that were unsettling. The first was the forest fire in Nevada where from the distance it looked like a volcano plume but driving a long side an entire mountain was ablaze. In Fiji there was still much political unrest that had spread to disappearing tourists who openly discussed the matter with criticism. In New Zealand I witnessed the crashed container ship, the Rena, spewing oil into the ocean and what was left of Christchurch after the devastating earthquake early in 2011. In Thailand I saw the after effects of the flooding that destroyed a large proportion of the countries businesses and roads and left many homeless and without livelihoods. There was also the aftermath of the red revolution in 2010 with anti-governmental graffiti yet to be washed away and the threat of more violent unrest with a bomb found on a Bangkok main road days before I flew out. It shows that amongst the great and spectacular things that the world and people have to offer we also have issues that cannot be triumphed by individuals or what we have, or what nature has provided us. There will always be imperfections and that is part of being human, although some people’s imperfections go as far as forgetting to pay a phone bill while others extend to drunken short cuts and crashing tankers.

While I was away the world changed, we lost dangerous tyrants like Colonel Gaddafi and Kim Jong Il , but also lost performers like the troubled Amy Winehouse, and the so far inexplicable suicide of Wales football manager Gary Speed to name but a few. The global financial crisis has gotten worse and the job market harder, a time I and Richard Branson would suggest entrepreneurial enterprise could be the way forward. Sport saw a personal hero in Shane Williams retire and the Welsh rugby union lose the stars of the World Cup abroad. Britain itself is unsure of itself with the coalition on tender hooks and Scotland and Wales coming closer and closer to devolution. But then again nothing has changed; the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Bankers are gambling with our pensions, politicians are lying and communities are still fracturing. The good are trying to no avail and the bad are still pretending to be good. The sun keeps rising, the bills keep coming and humanity will keep trying.

Regardless I am optimistic towards the future and whatever it may hold, I feel that any job will do right now with so many out of work and it could be five to ten years before I can get near ‘that’ job that so many of us crave. I left feeling that things were too complicated to comprehend and I needed space, but all I needed was space to realise that if you forget all the bollocks and bullshit things are quite simple, whatever you want in life should be your goal but have a plan and always strive for happiness and to be content.So I went there and I came back and I lived. Oscar Wilde said "To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all", I couldn't agree more and hope to take these words on to the next stage of my journey.

I finish with a thought on contemplation.

“Sleep on doubt, sleep with danger and if you can sleep under the stars.” A.Gill

No comments:

Post a Comment