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This site is no longer active.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.] 

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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On Dreams; or The Inevitable Return.

This was featured in the latest issue of Lostravellers Magazine. You can check the full spread here, and read more about Lostravellers here.

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“Freedom is a strange thing. Once you’ve experienced it, it remains in your heart and no-one can take it away.”                                                                       

 Ai Weiwei

There are many dreams to be had, out in the void. So dream a little; go on. Cast yourself out.. which will be yours? For there are dreams, and then there are dreams: dreams that inspire and dreams that scare; dreams that offer insight and dreams that serve only to muddy the waters. It almost seems self-evident: that these esoteric adventures would be as varied as the people that dream them. For dreams do much more than distract us from sleep.

Late at night, when your subconscious is hard at work and you drift between worlds, what dreams do you dream? Do you dream of escape and exploration, adventure and freedom? Are they dreams of the open road – stories with no predetermined endings? These are the dreams of lost travellers, waiting to be found. Maybe we’re all waiting.

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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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The Myth of the Mall and A Night on the Floor: Couchsurfing with the Proletariat.

Travel isn’t all unhinged hedonism, getting fucked up and losing your way back to the hostel. Sometimes the road confronts you with truths about just how cushy your existence has been, and they can be harder to swallow than you might think… IMG_3761

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A Hitch in Time: Couch Surfing Contradictions and One Ironic Dude.

As the days slipped away I became less and less enthused with Morocco. The lack of booze made for quiet evenings and in the end quiet days too. Despite the coast’s reputation there was no surf to be had – one of the perils of coming in the off-season. I knew I should have planned more. But what could you do? At least it was cheap.

I had had my fill of “culture” (mosques, souks, hustlers and trinkety shit) and was content to take long walks along the coast and swim in the sea, finally embracing the absence of activities holidays are meant to be.

The novelty of hitch-hiking down the coast remained and my Australian partner and I had a few long days sitting in what shade could be found on the side of the road, waiting for the sound of an approaching engine. There, more than anywhere else, our occupation was travelling and we waited patiently, turning down paid rides time and time again, hoping for people who understood what hitching is all about.

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Self Doubt On The Straits; or Out of Spain and Across to Africa.

The days that followed Redbeard’s departure were a sombre affair. I walked the streets of windy Tarifa alone, and ate overpriced pizza in an empty restaurant. I drank a little, just enough to ween myself off, and made polite small talk with the other travellers – but it felt forced and my heart wasn’t in it.

I hadn’t anticipated this when I’d planned my journey – if the meagre prep we’d done could even be called that. Everything finished with Redbeard’s exit and I was adrift: unsure where to go next, strung out and lonely. I’ve talked of yin and yang before and this was the rebound I had earned. We’d pushed so far above normal levels of contentment that it was inevitable, or at least apposite, that there would be an equal but opposite reaction. Newton dictated it.

For all my melancholy it wasn’t all doom and gloom, or at least shouldn’t have been. I was still on the road and adventure beckoned, but I felt purposeless. It was as if I’d had my thrills, fulfilled any unstated goals I might have had and in a strange unprecedented way, was ready to go home. It certainly would have been the easy choice: back to the familiar routines of home and uni, never too far from my comfort zone. But this wasn’t meant to be a year of easy choices.

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