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This site is no longer active.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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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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Tall Tales from Morocco: Custom.

The following is a short story, inspired by the experience of a mate overseas (cheers bro). It includes some dope illustrations from the enigma Bean Sewer and was originally published on lostravellers as part of their new feature “Tall Tales”. You can cop the story in its original setting here.

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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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Over Enthusiastic and Under Prepared: Self Discovery in a Soviet State.

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My arrival in Ukraine was once again a strange one. As expected the bus got in stupidly early – leaving me to wander the looming bus station under night’s last hour of darkness. It was eerily quiet and the only other people present were those from my own bus. None of them seemed remotely Western. Russian was the lingua franca here and I was, once again, out of my depth, misguided and mute as I searched the different levels for some clue as to how I might get into town.

In the upstairs waiting room I found a man passed out face down. He was still kneeling and his forehead rested on the bench where it must have fallen during this silent prayer for salvation. The empty vodka bottle clasped in his hand confirmed that his plea had gone unheard and I went back downstairs.

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Poland (Part I): Electro Ladies’ Night; or Not Anything Goes.

The engines roared and the plane pulled up off the runway. I settled in for the flight and as Morocco fell away my mood lifted. I was still a bit shaky, but the prospect of some friends and Eastern Europe’s notorious nightlife had me well on the way to recovery. I transited through Madrid and, with a full day to kill, walked tentatively down her wide boulevards, still not entirely trusting of my stomach.

It was hot work and I was soon hungry, seeking shelter in the air conditioned aisles of a supermercado. The Spanish on the shelves was too easy after Arabic’s unfamiliar script and I felt strangely at home. I grew bold and, in what could well have turned out to be a foolish move, purchased a beer to have with lunch.

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