The End / A Book

This site is no longer active. The travel it documents is well and truly over, and the final missing chapters that conclude it have been published as an offline, limited edition book (of sorts), available for the somewhat astronomical but fitting price of one dozen New Zealand dollars including shipping – through C O U N T E R P R E S S (message them).

Super professional photoshop job of what the book will look like

Super professional photoshop job of what the book will look like

In the interests of posterity: Because of the fun top-to-bottom format of blogs, all the posts here are back to front – necessitating something of a contents page should you wish to read them in order… but I couldn’t be bothered. Here instead is a link to what I, at some cringy date in the past, decided to call: the ADVENTURE so far.

Should you choose to click / fair warning: The whole point of this blog was to make myself better at writing, so naturally the earlier posts are fairly shabby… guess that’s how you know you’re learning, right?

Because tasters are fun: here is a preview from Explaining Nothing, as featured in issue three of  C O U N T E R P R E S S – with a bonus under-exposed photo…

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5. Ritual Worship and Dancing Gods: The Theyyam in Tholpetty

          (where we definitely don’t see a tiger)

We arrived at our accommodation in Tholpetty late, startling a deer grazing in the greenery that threatened to swallow the house – its quick exit the only sign of life to be seen in the rising darkness.  It had taken us longer than anticipated, to bus from Kalpetta, and I wondered if our host hadn’t given up on us.

We were deep inside Wayanad National Park, high in the Western Ghats and hot on the trail of the tigers that live in the forests there, or so we told ourselves. Such was the self-delusion necessary for safari: it made it seem more fun, more intrepid; and there certainly weren’t any other pale faces around to ruin the fantasy. So we let it play out, facts to the contrary be damned.

The gates to the National Park couldn’t have been more opposed. When we arrived the following morning, bold white letters proclaimed: “SAVE FORESTS & WILDLIFE; SAVE OURSELVES” – and our fantasy was revealed for the colonial daydream it was. There was no nobility in the idea of white heroes “conquering” wilderness, just a painfully thin extension of the same divisionary logic that saw atrocities committed all over the world. Such moments are, I believe, correctly classed as ‘sobering’ – but I am getting ahead of myself.

Drums thudded in the distance. Venu picked up his phone and revealed that, yes, he had thought we weren’t coming. He was at a theyyam down the road (“the drums, yes”) and hurried back to let us in.

I had read about theyyam in a few places and we had made loose plans to head to Kannur in the hopes of experiencing one. Yet there we were, dreams of wild tigers replaced by the very tangible thud of the drums, our packs slung on the floor and excitement rising.

The wellspring of knowledge that is Lonely Planet provides that theyyam is a religious ritual occurring in Northern Kerala. It predates Hinduism but now utilises its gods and other pagan deities in elaborate performances where costumed humans are possessed: dancing, speaking and blessing attendees as if they were the actual gods.

There are approximately 450 theyyam, the word referring not just to the ceremony but also to the gods it celebrates, each with their own unique costume and make-up combinations – remnants of a diversity that seems mindboggling in a globalized, one-size fits all world.

Dusk finally gave way to night. Venu gave us directions and set off to rustle up dinner, promising he would meet us there. We followed the drums’ hypnotic noise down a small dirt road, speculating on who – or what – awaited.

If the reader will be so patient, I will now attempt to do justice to the scene into which we stepped, a world manifesting as an immediate and encompassing milieu – but one that, for purposes of communication, I must subordinate to the limited conventions of prose, stoic and formulaic as they are. In no particular order: drumming (previously mentioned, but crucial); a congregation of people; an open-walled shed, its corrugated iron roof under the watchful eye of a full moon (appropriately shrouded in mist); bright strip lighting and their attendant cloud of bugs – the drums! – and in the centre of it all, a pulsing, rhythmic figure, a colossus of make-up and costume, his face lurid in the light, his bracelets clanking with each step: a god in human form – theyyam!

[..to be continued…if you buy the book.] 

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Bingo and Buds: A Couch Surf in the Rif Mountains.

This feature was originally published in the November 2013 edition of High Times under the title “Kief in the Rif” – a typo mistaking the incredibly harsh Moroccoan kif for the luscious kief crystals that give Mary J her famous kick. But what are you going to do? It’s High Times for chrissake.

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A Malaysian Mishap: Trapped in a Tragedy of My Own Making.

It has been one of my trademarks this trip. From that first rinsed feed of KFC at the airport in Auckland to the ludicrous decision to eat a joint in Barcelona Airport, it now seems that I am unable of catching a plane without some skull-crushing hangover or ghastly chemical imbalance. This isn’t something I seek out but rather an inevitability given the hedonistic tendencies that The Last Night brings out. Who knew when I’d be back? Sleep was for the weak, I for the night – and there was always a price to pay.

Comatose Belgian, Rock Werchter.

Comatose Belgian, Rock Werchter.

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Killing Time in the Capital of Cool: A Week in Copenhagen.

My return to Northern Europe marked the beginning of another end. My European leg was coming to a close and I had nominated Copenhagen as the place I would wait out my visa application for India. This was largely due to the fact that my cousin lives there (and the visa office’s murky responses about how long it would take to process my application). His inevitable offer of a place to crash was a welcome respite for my increasingly destitute bank account and I accepted happily.

As chance would have it, his housemate had just found an old bike, abandoned through no failure of function and ready to go. So I was the happy recipient of a large orange single-speed, free to take my place in the well-populated cycle lanes of the Danish capital. The old Dutch habits came back easily and, with my visa application lodged, I was soon speeding my way towards Christiania and all it promised.

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On Old Friends; or Lost in the Wild of the World.

The first part of this will be familiar to anyone who has been following along. It was an almost off-the-cuff response to a piece by Tourettes that featured on lostravellers. It tried to capture a bit of what Berlin brings out while mirroring his dissociative style, with only moderate success.

I didn’t know it at the time, but it wasn’t finished. The following is the full story, and what I hope is a more complete homage to the city.

Berlin.

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Riches to Ruin: Fermentation in a Hungarian Hostel.

I woke with a burnt lip and the drys. Someone rolled over on the neighbouring bunk and I ran my tongue around the roof of my mouth. Nothing. How much longer could I put off getting up? An ungodly drought occupied my mouth; resistance was futile and I was soon clambering down from my top bunk in search of water.

It was 10.30am but the room was still. The figures that remained from the rout of morning checkout were quietly comatose and in no rush to leave. They’d be hunting their own water soon enough.

Token tourist snap?, check.

Token tourist snap, check.

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Photos from Kiev: Soviet Tetris and Rain in the Sculpture Park.

It might surprise you to discover, but I am not Turkish. Nor am I on the hunt for a wife. But make no mistake, there are people of this ilk and their combination is one regarded with suspicion in certain Ukranian couchsurfing circles, or so I’ve been told.

RAIN.

RAIN.

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