Category Archives: All the Dumb Things

The butcher of Belize City. 1983

This is one of the scariest old men I’ve ever met.

As I was wandering around Belize City market when I came across this gentleman. I found the colours and textures immediately appealing and I wanted to take a photograph.

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Years before I would’ve just taken the photo, like a thief and run if I had to. Those days were behind me and I didn’t believe in doing that anymore. I now believe that photos can be much more interesting when the subject responds to the camera and it’s ethical to ask first. So I walked up to the butcher who was chopping up the meat with a very big cleaver, and I asked him if I could take a photo of him and his shop. His response shocked the hell out of me.

He raised his cleaver and pointed it in my direction and in an angry and aggressive tone, asked me why he should allow me. I told him I that it would make a good photograph but he was not having any of that, and then he also told me that he wasn’t interested in being portrayed in a way that would make him look like fool. I tried to explain again that it was the colours and textures that I was interested in. He said he thought I was trying to make him look like fool, all the while, brandishing the cleaver. I was starting to get worried as his voice started to raise even louder and the cleaver got more animated. I was feeling very threatened and wasn’t too sure how I was going to get out of the predicament without just running.

My break came when I told him my grandfather was a butcher who had trained in England, and that he might be interested in seeing how the butchers do things in Belize. His mood changed immediately. He asked me how old I thought he was. I said late fifties (I was telling the truth about what I thought). He smiled a big smile, puffed out his chest and said he was 78. He then said, “O.K., you can take your picture. So I took the first picture from a distance and I noticed he wasn’t smiling, so I asked him to smile.

“So you want to make me look like some grinning old fool?”
“No! No! I won’t have it!” He picked up the cleaver again.

To mollify him, I backed down with an, O.K., O.K! I then asked him for one more shot a little closer with him standing and he didn’t have to smile.

After that, I put down the camera (I didn’t think it would be wise to take anymore) and he relaxed. He then started asking me questions about my grandfather. He loved it when I told him my grandfather once got in trouble with the law in England, after the war during the time of food rationing. Both my Grandfather and his boss were brought up on charges for putting too much bread crumbs in their sausages and not enough meat.

In hindsight it’s not hard for me to understand why he was annoyed. I’m sure that people in markets all around the world are sick of having their photos taken by tourists for nothing in return. He just wanted to be treated as a human being, to be engaged with, rather than be photographed as some colourful object.

 

This post was first posted on the 24th of April 2007

My great shark hunt. Queensland, Australia. 1971

This is another episode in the “All the dumb things” series

When I was about 15 in 1971 I got interested in going to Queensland. At the time, I had a friend called Karl and I talked him into going up (we lived in Sydney) there with me during our school holidays in the summer. Back then airfares to Brisbane were very cheap so we caught a plane. From Brisbane we decided to take a train up to Cairns, stopping off at Proserpine on the way. I wanted to go Proserpine because from there we could go to Airlie Beach, which was near a few well-known resorts and the Great Barrier Reef.

The resorts had names like Daydream Island and South Molle Island. As a small child, growing up in the city, places with exotic names, evoked in me, visions of “Adventures in Paradise” a show that I used to love. Also as a kid I was fascinated with the idea of small islands and I used to fantasize about living a subsistent life on one.

It never occurred to me that the tropics were, about the last place on earth that a pasty, freckled, red haired, white boy should try and make a home. It was only years later when I lived in Vancouver, Canada did I understand what habitat my genes were suited to. Long periods of rain and overcast skies made me feel “right”. I suspect my gene sequence was evolved as a good survival strategy in the last ice age by one of my mammoth hunting ancestors. As a teen, such realities never intruded into my thoughts.

Another reason why I wanted to go to Airlie Beach, was that at the time I used to do a lot of skin diving. I even learnt how to scuba when I was 14. The scuba course cost me $11 and was taught at a Y.M.C.A. indoors pool over a couple of nights. FAUI? PADI? Decompression tables? Never heard of them! We were told; ” just don’t come up faster than your bubbles and you’ll be O.K”. Every one knows that the Great Barrier Reef is a Mecca for divers and I considered myself one, so I just had to go.

When I look back, I’m amazed that my parents let me go, at that age, with only another teenager as a companion. Come to think of it, what was Karl’s family thinking? Letting him anywhere near me, never mind traveling up the coast thousands of kilometers away, with me.

The plan was that when we got to Airlie beach we’d hire a boat and live in it for a week and when we got there, that’s exactly what we did. We hired an open fourteen-foot aluminium dinghy equipped with a small outboard motor for eight dollars a day. After 5 minutes of instruction we were in the water and heading out to sea for the nearest island. Lifejackets? Never heard of them!

Enough of all this intermediate stuff and onto “all the dumb things”!

One day, while out in the boat, Karl and I saw some bad weather closing in so we headed for shelter in a fairly protected bay about 10kms north of Airlie Beach. We anchored in about 2 metres of water and swam ashore. We did this because the tides in that area are quite high and when the tide goes out you can be stranded on a tidal flat until the next tide comes in. The looming weather wasn’t as bad as we expected and we spent the next couple of hours ashore exploring the nearby bush.

Yep! You guessed it, when we came back to the boat the tide had started to go out and the dinghy was sitting in about 30cm (about 1′) of water which was too shallow to use the motor or row, so we started pushing the boat as fast as we could, towards the receding water. The problem was, was that the seafloor in that area has an incredibly level surface with not much of a slope for kilometers. This all meant that no matter how fast we pushed the boat, the water quickly went down to a level where we couldn’t push it any more. So there we were, stuck out in the middle of nowhere on a tidal flat for the next 8 hours which meant that we wouldn’t be able to leave until after dark. Food? Water? Didn’t have much of that. Contingency? Never heard of it!

The good thing was, that after the squall had blown over there were millions of butterflies migrating out to sea. It was sublimely beautiful and calm. Karl thought it would be a interesting thing to see how far out to sea we could walk. We walked for what seemed like an age, following the butterflies straight out to sea. When the water was only half way up to my knees the dinghy was nothing more that a speck the size of a piece of dust. On we walked following the butterflies straight out to sea until the water was up to our knees, further and further we went.

Not looking at where I was treading, staring at the horizon and the butterflies, I stepped on what I think was a Giant Reef Ray (Taeniura meyeni). The ray was huge, about 1.8 metres (about 6ft) across and about 3 metres long (about 9ft). As I stepped on the stingray, I barely had time to feel the ground move from away from under my feet, all I saw was an enormous mottled disc shape fly up out of the water with a tremendous splash, landing back in the water about 3 or 4 metres away with another big splash and then off it flew away under water. It frightened me so much that I just about rin over the top of the water all the way back to the boat without stopping or gasping for breath. It was a real son of mammoth hunter meets monster of the deep, adrenaline moment.

Back safely in boat we waited for night to fall and the tide to come in. As soon as the water got deep enough to put the propeller in the water we tried to start the motor.

Yep! You guessed it. The motor wouldn’t start and in our continued efforts to get the engine going we succeeded in flooding it. By this time we were both hungry and thirsty so we decided to take turns rowing back to Airlie Beach, which was quite a way off. On we rowed into the night, occasionally trying out the motor. This went on for what seemed to be hours and hours. During my turn at rowing we hit a large soft floating object, which jumped up out of the water creating a gigantic splash, drenching us and almost tipping over the boat. Needless to say it scared the heck out of both of us. We didn’t know what is was but we assumed it was either a dolphin or a dugong.

By this time I was a shattered nervous wreck and Karl wasn’t a happy camper either, but probability snapped back like an overworked waitress and we finally had some good luck, the motor started. Within about an hour we were back in Airlie beach dining on fast food.

Since the night was warm and the water was calm we decided, for a change to sleep in the boat while it was in the water. We usually dragged the boat up onto the beach (which is made up of finger sized pieces of coral in that part of the world). It was a beautiful balmy night, I felt safe, fed and comfortable. As I was lying in the boat enjoying the night, it came to me that a spot of night fishing would go down well. We rowed out a little further into deeper water and baited up our hand lines.

Both of us weren’t having any luck until I felt a weight on my line. Usually when you get a bite you feel the fish through the line take the bait. This felt like I’d snagged on old boot or something like it, so I reeled it in. As I got it close to the surface I could dimly see that it was a fish, a decent sized one at that, but it wasn’t fighting the way that fish usually fought and we didn’t have light so I couldn’t see what it was clearly. The only option was to lift it into the boat. As soon I lifted the fish out of the water I could see it was a small shark (cool!) about 50cm (about 20″) long, but it wasn’t moving around much like hooked fish usually do. So I lifted the shark with the line into the boat and as soon as I did, it bit through the line and all pandemonium broke loose.

It was dark, and we had this small shark that had suddenly sprung into action snapping at us from the bilge. Both Karl and I fell over our benches backwards; Karl into the bow and me into the stern and the shark had the middle. The shark was going berserk, jumping and snapping all over the place. It took me awhile, but I finally located my diving knife and stabbed the shark. That only annoyed it and the jumping and snapping were getting much more frantic. The situation quickly degenerated into a jumping, snapping, stabbing frenzy. The shark just didn’t seem to want to die (strangely enough), so I eventually ended up pinning the shark down with the knife and we waited for what felt like an eternity for it to stop moving.

The middle of the boat was now covered in shark blood and guts so we ended up dragging the boat onto shore and having an unpleasant sleep on the beach. In the morning when it was light we got a good look at the shark that was still in the boat. There, in the bloody bilge, lay a poor little shark that had been rendered inedible by my panicky ministrations. One side of the fish looked fine, the other side was a mixture of bilge, fish mince and guts.

I didn’t go into the water again for the rest of the trip.

pasty, freckled, red haired descendent of mammoth hunters with monster of the deep

 

This post was first posted on the 19th of April 2007

Army day at Eagle Farm Racecourse. Brisbane, Qld, Australia 1988

As I was looking through my old colour negatives (hence the crappy grainyness) I came across the image below that was taken 20 years ago (gee time flies).

Mother with her Razzbuffnik

The picture is of my mother and I at the ANZAC day (25th of April), “Army Day” races at Eagle Farm Racecourse on the outskirts of Brisbane.

We had gone to the races to test out some tips a guy I knew gave me. This guy wanted me to join a gambling syndicate so I asked him for some tips to test the infomation that he said he’d give to me in the futre if I joined. Although we have legal off track betting here in Australia, I thought that since my mother was staying with me for the 1988 Expo that she might enjoy a day at the races. I had no idea that the army would be at the race track in force with soldiers, tanks and recruiting tents.

At first it seemed a bit odd.  What was the connection between horse racing and the army?

There were a few guys dressed up in old WWI lighthorse uniforms on horseback wandering about, but they weren’t a main attraction. There were also a few armoured vehicles with soldiers standing around them near the almost empty recruiting tents, but I still couldn’t really understand why the army was there at all.

That is until I saw a few large army tents off to one side away from the grandstand. I thought it must have been an exhibition of some kind until I got closer and saw a sign that read “Army Officers only” and soldiers on guard outside controlling who went inside. My mother wanted to turn around because we wouldn’t be allowed in. I was curious though and insisted that we go on. As we got closer we could see the tent was packed with what looked like a party for officers and their families. So that was it! It was a nice little, tax payer funded, day at the races junket for the officers. There were way more officers in the tent than regular soldiers in the whole of the rest of the racecourse.

My mother still wanted to go back but I said “just act like you belong and we’ll just walk in”; and with a nod to the soldiers as we went by them, that’s what we did.

I was definitely the odd one out as far as dress was concerned, (they probably all felt sorry for whoever was my officer father) but no one bothered us as we walked up to the bar. I couldn’t believe it when I saw they were selling a sparkling white wine for three dollars a bottle! So I bought three! Needless to say my mother and I got quite tipsy but we sure did have a great day together.

To top it all off, all the race tips I’d been given came in and I made about $130 from $20. Thanks to the Australian Defence Force with their subsidised alcohol, plus a few good tips, it was the best day that I ever had at the horse races.

Epilogue:

After winning at the races I asked the guy who gave me the tips to give me some more to try to see if my success on Army Day had been a one off fluke or not. He said O.K. but that it would be the last time he’d do it for free. So instead of going to the race track I went and placed my bets at the local TAB (the state controlled off track betting agency).

Not only did all the tips not come in and I lost my little bets (wich I didn’t really care that much about) but I found the experience of hanging around a betting shop all day with a bunch of heavy smoking losers very un-aesthetic and I lost all interest in “investing” in the gambling syndicate.

This post was first post of Feb 11 2008

Cluless in the snow. Panorama Ridge, Garibaldi National Park, B.C. Canada

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Before I met Doug in the picture above I hadn’t done any real full on wilderness activities other than go camping when I was in the Boy Scouts and then later, when I was in the army cadets during my early years in high school.
 
Doug introduced me to snow shoeing and snow camping back in the early 1980s, when I was living in Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada.  One of the first hikes we did together was the Black Mountain loop in West Vancouver during the summer.  This fairly easy hike emboldened us to try hiking and snow shoeing the same area during the spring, while there was still a lot of snow on the ground at the higher altitudes. 
 
During the summer, the Black Mountain trail is fairly easy to follow, as there are psychedelic orange plastic trail markers on the trees.  During our spring trip, we had decided to go to the top of the Black Mountain (which required snow shoes) and then down through to a pass to lower altitude to where there wasn’t any snow so we could camp over night.
 
Following the trail markers during spring when there is very deep snow was a different matter entirely to summer as the snow on the ground was so deep it covered many of the trail markers. Unfortunately, during that particular hike in the snow we lost our way and ended up being benighted at higher altitude in the snow.  This was the first time that either of us had camped in the snow.  Back in those days, I thought that insulating sleeping mats were for weaklings and I used to camp without them. Doug didn’t have a sleeping mat either, so we decided that we would tear off as many small branches from the surrounding conifer trees as we could to make a layer of insulation underneath the tent.  It was very difficult to tear off the branches that we needed because our nylon covered gloves didn’t allow a very firm grip, so we had to take our gloves off to do it with our bare hands and of course it was freezing cold. To make matters worse, the tree branches were quite strong and flexible and were very difficult to remove.  It was getting dark, fairly fast, so we were only able to spend about an hour gathering material to put underneath our tent, to make a dismally ineffectual thin layer of insulation.
 
What followed was probably the longest and most uncomfortable night I’ve ever spent camping.  We’ve both didn’t get any sleep at all, because we couldn’t stay in one position long enough due to the fact that the point of contact of our bodies with the base of the tent was so intensely cold.  It was the pits. So much for my first snow camping experience.
 
In the morning we finally made our way back down to the highway and went back into town.  The first thing I did that day after I got back home was to go to an outdoor equipment store and ask them what was the best thing they had for sleeping on snow and money was no object.  The salesman showed me an extra large Thermarest for $82, which was a lot of money for me back then, and I bought it without hesitation.  Doug also brought a good sleeping mat a short time later, and with our new purchases, we decided that we were now equipped to go snow camping somewhere a little bit more ambitious.
 
 
For our next snow camping hike decided to go snowshoeing in Garibaldi National Park to Black Tusk via Panorama Ridge while there was still snow on the ground in late spring.  Garibaldi National Park is a spectacular wilderness park on the way to Whistler about 70 km (44 miles) from Vancouver.  The trail to Black tusk starts at sea level, where there wasn’t any snow on the ground at that time of the year, and goes up to about 2,100 m (6,900 ft) at Panorama Ridge.  At the lower altitudes one passes through fairly dense temperate rainforest. At the higher altitudes there are far less trees, but there was lots of very deep snow. 
 
Being Australian, I didn’t have very much experience with snow at all and although Doug was a Canadian he didn’t have much experience with snow in the wilderness.  Whilst we both knew that avalanches were a risk we both had no idea of how to detect high-risk areas and what to do in the event of an avalanche. 
 
On the way up to Panorama Ridge, some of the slopes were quite steep, and it was fairly heavy going with the snowshoes.  As we were walking up one particularly steep hill we could hear cracking sounds as large sheets (about 10m or 30ft in diameter) of the fairly fresh snow about 30 cm (approximately 1ft) thick beneath our feet was breaking off and sliding over the top of the older compacted snow below.  We found it amusing to turn around and ride the small avalanches down the hill. This happened about three or four times and some of the rides went for about 100 m (about 100 yards) or so.  Of course, now many years later with the benefit of experience in hindsight, I realise how dangerous those conditions were and how lucky we were not to have killed ourselves.
 
On the way to the meadows near Black Tusk, were we planned to camp I passed a small tree sticking up out of the snow.  Before I could realise what was happening, I had fallen about 5m (about 15ft) below the snow and was tangled up in the top of a large pine tree with my snowshoes and backpack, making it difficult for me to move. 
 
It had been snowing quite heavily, and there was lots of light fluffy powdery snow covering everything and what I thought was a small tree sticking up out of the snow was in fact a large tree in a snowdrift.  So there I was, tangled up in the top of the tree under the snow.  Doug of course, was trying to help me get out, but he couldn’t get near the top of the tree, as the snow was too soft and he was in risk of falling straight through the snow, just like I had.  Matters were further complicated by the fact that I had to somehow undo my snowshoes and get my backpack off, whilst tangled in the branches. 
 
Since I was at the thinner top of the tree, my weight caused the tree to sway underneath the very soft snow.  After about a half hour struggle I was eventually able to remove the snowshoes and backpack and throw them to Doug, who was waiting about 3 m away (about 10 feet) at the edge of the hole in the snow.  This wasn’t a very easy thing to do because every time I tried to throw my pack, the tree would sway in the opposite direction and I couldn’t throw it very far.  Luckily, Doug had brought long handled ice axe with him and he was able to retrieve my backpack before it fell back down into the hole past me to the bottom of the tree, which was about another 10 m (30 ft) below me. 
 
I tried a few times to jump from the tree to safety but as I tried to do so, the force I was using caused the tree to sway in the opposite direction, canceling my efforts out.  I eventually got out my predicament by swaying backwards and forwards in the top of the tree causing it to sway it towards Doug, who was waiting for me at the edge of the hole with the ice axe extended for me to grab on to.  I don’t know how I would have got out of that situation without Doug.
 
Since those first few snow camping experiences in Canada with Doug I’ve probably been snow camping over a hundred times and have learned how to do it much more safely and comfortably.

this post was first posted on 5th of January 2008

Depeche Mode, “Walking in My Shoes”

Today I was checking out the blog of Miss Swiss who left a very thoughtful comment here recently. 

The first post that I saw on her blog contained the following quote by William Wordsworth, “If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should see sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.” With the text was a photo from the war in Cambodia of young Khmer Rouge soldiers. Although the post was fairly short, and on the surface, very simple, it put the finger on something I’ve been grappling with for some time.

I would say that one of the things that has characterised my life is poor impulse control.

I remember about 12 years ago, I was crossing a rather wide and busy road that had some construction work with low barriers in the middle. I quickly walked across, and as I neared the barriers I broke into a run to vault over them, but for some reason I hesitated and stopped at the barrier, which was a good thing because there was a 10 metre (about 30ft) drop onto the road of a tunnel that was being constructed below. Every now and again I remember this incident and it nearly makes me sick to think how close I came to either death or at the very least, serious harm.

It’s not just the near misses I’ve had with physical dangers that make me wince with horror, it’s also some of the thoughtless things that I’ve done socially. 

Over the last decade or so, I’ve been trying to control my urge to charge into judgement and conflict with other people, by holding back, and trying to think about another’s position. Once in a while my hesitation has saved me from embarrassment and anguish as further information has come to light. Just like the near miss at the road barrier, the thought of how close I’ve come to trampling over other people’s feelings has made me mentally groan with white hot shame at how my instincts can be so hair-triggered and so wrong.

In his very famous book,  “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, Dale Carnegie uses as an example, Bruno Hauptmann’s (the guy that was sentenced to death for the abduction and murder of Charles Lindbergh’s baby back in 1932) opinion of himself as a basically decent person (it has been since argued by some, that he was innocent).  I suspect that the point that Carnegie was trying to make, was that for most people there is some kind of justification that they can use to rationalise their motivation to do things, that others would think of as wrong.

This takes me back to the Wordsworth quote at the beginning of this post and how it reminded me of how it can be instructive to try and see why other people have the “stance” that they do, and to try and figure out what their motivations are. 

As I was thinking about these matters, Depeche Mode’s song, “Walking in My Shoes” started to play in my mind.

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“I would tell you about the things
They put me through
The pain I’ve been subjected to
But the Lord himself would blush
The countless feasts laid at my feet
Forbidden fruits for me to eat
But I think your pulse would start to rush

Now I’m not looking for absolution
Forgiveness for the things I do
But before you come to any conclusions
Try walking in my shoes
Try walking in my shoes

You’ll stumble in my footsteps
Keep the same appointments I kept
If you try walking in my shoes
If you try walking in my shoes

Morality would frown upon
Decency look down upon
The scapegoat fate’s made of me
But I promise now, my judge and jurors
My intentions couldn’t have been purer
My case is easy to see

I’m not looking for a clearer conscience
Peace of mind after what I’ve been through
And before we talk of any repentance
Try walking in my shoes
Try walking in my shoes”

 

Bored with barbed wire on the bridge. Sydney Harbour Bridge, Sydney, NSW, Australia. 2010

I bought a second hand Fuji S5 pro on ebay the other day, so I thought I’d wander around town and take some shots with it to see if everything was O.K. with it.

I’ve been feeling a bit low in energy lately so I figured I should get some exercise by walking from town hall to North Sydney, over the Sydney Harbour bridge. It’s not far, at only 4.5kms or just under 3 miles. Today was a warm sunny day and the views from the Harbour Bridge promised to be as beautiful as ever.

The road that goes over Sydney Harbour Bridge is about 50 metres or 160 feet above the water and because it is so high it was a popular spot to commit suicide, back in the 1930s during the depression, wire suicide barriers complete with barbed wire were installed in 1937 and have largely been a successful, if very ugly, solution.

Landmark structures like the Sydney Harbour bridge, not only attract the suicidal but also climbers.

 

Back when I used to rock climb in the early 1990s many of my climbing friends had climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It was considered a doddle with spectacular views. In those days, the fine for climbing the bridge was only $200 and most of my friends climbed it at night and didn’t get caught. Climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge was something I always wanted to do but unfortunately the fine went up to $1200 and that put me off. Nowadays the fine is $2200 and the bridge is covered with detection systems that make getting caught assured.

As much as I would’ve like to have climbed the bridge, I can understand why all the security has been stepped up and the fines increased. For example, years ago, my good friend Paul decided it would be a simply brilliant idea to climb the bridge with some friends after a heavy drinking session at a buck’s party. Needless to say, he fell off after only (and luckily) 5 meters (about 15feet), onto the railway tracks below, with his arm behind his back, smashing it so badly that his arm is now held together with about 6 steel bolts.

Thanks to all the recent terrorism around the world, there are now security guards and cameras all over the bridge as well.

 

Now, not only has photography been made difficult because of all the wire everywhere, there is the added paranoia of whether or not it’s considered a preliminary act of terrorism if one photographs any of these security measures, intentionally or not.

I guess me being a pasty white guy who doesn’t look like he’s from the middle east goes some way towards my cavities being left unprobed. After all the anti terrorism ads on TV, where people are encouraged to report suspicious activities, I wouldn’t recommend anyone who looks obviously middle eastern, take photos of anything other than the view from Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Because if the big brothers watching the security monitors thought some malicious reconnoitring was going on, it would be highly likely they’d get frog marched off by a nearby security guard, probably of middle eastern appearance (sometimes it seems like almost every second security guard in Sydney is from a Lebanese background), for a “chat” in an enclosed uncomfortable place.

All this talk about people of middle eastern appearance reminds me of once when my wife and I were at the airport about to go overseas, when a security guy asked for my wife to step out and be checked over with a hand held metal detector. Anyone who has met my wife, Engogirl will know she is the embodiment of sweetness and light and it’s obvious that she would’nt hurt a fly, never mind blow up an airplane full of people.

The security guard was so apologetic, saying that he had to pick people out at random. We told him we understood and that for appearance sake they can’t just pick on people of middle eastern appearance. He said, “you’re so right!” they get so mad, they just blow up!”…… “I mean … I mean, I mean, get so angry”. The poor guy was so flustered that he had said something that was accidentally so politically incorrect. We tried to reassure him that the situation was O.K. and we weren’t going to report him. Poor sod, what a crap job. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t. As for me, I wish everybody was thoroughly searched before they got on a plane, particularly one I was on.

While I acknowledge that the various security measures in place on the Harbour Bridge are necessary, I just wish the view wasn’t so obstructed. The Sydney Harbour Bridge is a very popular tourist destination and many people walk across it to see the views. Surely in this day and age of the consciousness that cities should be beautiful places to live, rather than being purely functional money making machines, a more up to date and pleasing barrier could be erected on such an important landmark?

Rovinj the beautiful has fleas called Bemax. Croatia. 2009

We been having such a pleasant time during our travels over the past weeks that I’ve been wondering when probability would snap back like an overstretched elastic band and something unpleasant will happen.

Well it did, in Rovinj, Croatia.

Rovinj is a beautiful little fishing town in Istria that we hadn’t heard about until our friend in Slovenia, Robert, suggested we go there.

As we have been travelling through various countries, we have occasionally used the local tourist information offices to find and book hotels for us. All the tourist information centers that we’d come across before Croatia were government run services that benefitted both the traveler and the local businesses. As we drove through Istria on our way from Venice we noticed that there seemed to be quite a few information centers but it didn’t click with us that they we privately owned.

When we arrived in Rovinj we went into what we thought was the local tourist information center to ask about accommodation. The woman at the counter seemed annoyed that we’d interrupted her peace and quiet and was very rudely curt when we made our inquiries. When I asked about a room for one night she just rolled her eyes, whilst making a tutting sound, asked in a way that sounded like she thought we were stupid “so you only want to stay one night?  I replied that I didn’t know if I wanted to stay longer because I had no idea what Rovinj was like.

Another rolling of the eyes and shrug.

It wasn’t what she said, it was the way she said it and the body language that felt off-key.

Both Engogirl and I were both surprised at her demeanor as everyone we had met so far on this trip was a charming paragon of old world manners (no, I’m not kidding, the people of Europe, so far have been fantastic) and we just put it down to her having a bad day. I know that dealing with the public day in, and day out, can be a grind so I let it go.

The price we were quoted for the room seemed very steep and I said I thought it was expensive and asked her if there were any other alternatives, only to be told with another roll of the eyes and a shrug of the shoulders, “Rovinj and Dubrovnik are the most expensive places in Croatia”.

I then asked where the room was on the map on the wall. When she pointed, I said I’d like to go there and have a look at it. I was told, “we don’t do it that way, you wait here and man on a motor scooter will come and you follow him”.

Sure enough, within about five minutes a guy on a motor scooter turned up and we followed him to the room and were introduced to a woman called Kristina. Kristina spoke English and dealt with English speaking guests on the behalf of her mother, Maria who owned the house. The room itself was pretty ordinary but it had a glimpse of the sea, TV, air-conditioning (it was a hot day) and Kristina seemed like a nice lady. So we said that we’d stay the night, and Kristina said the payment for the room was to be made at the tourist office.

As the day cooled down we walked into the town and were surprised at how beautiful it was,

so on the way back to our room we stopped off to pay for our accommodation and told the surly woman that her town was beautiful and that we’d like to stay another day. We were told that was fine and that we could drop off the money for the room the next day.

Engogirl and I spent the evening sweating our backsides off because there was no air-conditioner control in the room and we couldn’t open the windows due to all the mosquitoes. Since it was the middle of the night when we wanted to put on the air-conditioner we thought it wouldn’t be right to wake up old Maria and try and sort things out so we endured with the heat.

After hardly any sleep during the night, we spent the next morning strolling around the very picturesque old town of Rovinj.

On the way back to our room in the late afternoon, we stopped off at the tourist office again to pay for the extra day we stayed.

As I was walking in, I overheard an American guy get a quote for an apartment for half the price that we were paying for a room. Apartments usually cost more than rooms. I asked the surly woman behind the counter how come our room was costing so much and I was told it was because we were only staying one day. I pointed out that we were actually staying for two days and Surly Woman said that didn’t matter because we said that we were only staying for one day. I then asked why I wasn’t told this when I first came in and she said because I didn’t ask and there was nothing she could about it because she didn’t make the rules.

What?!

Me: “Do you think this a good way to conduct business?”

Surly Woman (known from now on as SW): Shrugs shoulders, “There’s nothing I can do, you should have told me you wanted to stay longer”

Me: “How am I expected to make that kind of decision when I know nothing about the town?”

SW: “That’s not my problem”

Me: “So why didn’t you tell me about your pricing system when I first came in?”

SW: Shrugs shoulders, “You said you only wanted to stay one day”

In the meantime a guy in his early thirties walked in and around, behind the counter. As I was talking to SW he kept staring at me whilst doing the simian threat thing, with the upward tilt of the head and the raising of the eyebrows, we’ve inherited from our ancestors.

I asked SW if the simian imitator was the boss and she said no, but he interjected and spoke in Croatian to SW, probably asking what was going on. A short to and fro in Croatian and a with a sweep of the guy’s arm, as if to say, I’ll take care of this, he stepped forward and said, “what’s the problem?”

SW took a step back and glowered at me in a way as if to say, “now you’re going to cop it!”.

I was in the middle of re-explaining my beef when the Croatian guy held up his hand to stop me in mid sentence and said in a very aggressive manner, “so you want a discount do you?” “Well you can’t have one because you said you were only staying one night”

Me: “How do you think I feel about paying twice as much as other people for the same thing?”

Croatian guy (known from now on as Aggroman), “I don’t care”

Me: “You must be joking, do you think that word of your behavior won’t get around?”

Aggroman: “I don’t care; this is the way how we do business and if you don’t like just move along”

Me: “I’ve just come in to pay for the next night”

Aggroman, raising his voice and leaning forward in an aggressive manner: “I don’t care, just move along”

Me: “So you don’t want me to pay for the next day?”

Aggroman, raising his voice even louder and doing the simian threat thing in an even more exaggerated manner: “I can tell from your accent that you are Australian. I’ve been to you country twice and I didn’t like it.  Do you think that I could go into a hotel in your country and cause such problems?”

In the meantime SW was starting to blanch at the confrontation and about four groups of customers had walked in and then walked out again because of the ruckus.

Not waiting for an answer, Aggroman continued with, “you Australians and Americans dropping your atomic bombs all around the world, just because you speak English, you think you are better than us?”

“I don’t like you or the Americans!”

WTF?

Talk about issues?

Where do I begin?

Perhaps low self esteem brought on by cheating people has led to justifiable feelings of inferiority. It’s hard to get along with others when you hate yourself for being a lowlife cheating shitbag.

I knew that Aggroman had dived off into the deep end of La La Land and I wasn’t going to get any sense out of him so I turned to SW and said to her, “this guy’s not listening or making any sense, do you want me to pay for the night or what?”

Before SW could respond Aggroman jumped in with, “you involved me in this”

Me: “Wait a minute, you involved yourself with the; at this point I imitated the simian threat thing he was doing”

Aggroman: “You involved me!”

Me: “Keep your voice down, you involved yourself and you’re not talking any sense.”

Aggroman: “You involved me in this!”

Me to SW, “He’s not listening, do you want me to pay for the next night or what?”

At this point I thought I was going to have to defend myself as Aggroman worked himself into a lather and kept on trying to engage me further in his nonsense, but I stood my ground and said to SW, “So how much are you going to charge me for the second night?”

Aggroman tried to interject again but I held up my hand to cut him off and said, “I’m talking to her, not you; you don’t listen and I’m finished with you”.

“Don’t involve yourself anymore”.

SW reduced the bill by about 20% and I paid. Even with the reduction it still worked out that I paid just under double the going rate.

As I left, I turned to my protagonists and asked, “do you guys enjoy doing business like this?”

It was all very unpleasant and poor old Engogirl wasn’t too happy with the noisy confrontation and kerfuffle.

When we got back to our room I thought that since my feathers had been ruffled, I’d sort out the air-conditioning issue. Might as well sort out all the crap in one go since the mood had been spoilt.

I found Maria and asked her where the air-conditioner controller was. Maria explained in German (that I could understand the gist of) and very broken English that air-conditioning was an extra that we hadn’t paid for.

What?!

I couldn’t believe my ears. After paying double the going price, I was expected to pay more for what was implied to come with the room?

With a smattering of mangled German I told Maria how much I’d paid for the room and nothing had been said to me about the air-con being extra.

As soon as Maria heard how much we had paid those bastards at Bemax she crossed herself and exclaimed, “Mine Gott!” She then explained as best she could that the tourist office is a privately owned business called Bemax and they only gave her  just over half the money that we paid and that she couldn’t be expected to cover the cost of the air-conditioning.

I then went onto explain that when I came to see the room with Kristina I was shown the air-con and TV, but no mention of the extra charge was made. Maria then explained in German that if we turned off the lights at night we could open the windows and the mosquitoes wouldn’t come.

I knew it was pointless to try and explain that mosquitoes are attracted by the carbon dioxide we exhale with the poor grasp of German I possess, so I explained, using words from about four different languages that I’d paid double, had been shown a room with air-conditioning, so I expected to have air-conditioning.

I hadn’t paid double for a room to sit in the dark sweating my buns off!

Finally Maria relented and brought us the air-conditioner control.

What a hassle!

I felt like I was back-packing in 1970s Asia again.

Unfortunately, my experience with those arseholes at Bemax in Rovinj coloured the way how I felt about the rest of my time in Croatia. I’m sure I offended numerous Croatian people as I double checked bills and asked what must have seemed to be overly cautious questions about the next places I stayed in.

So, in short, if you ever go to Croatia, beware of Bemax.

The bag sellers and the brute squad of Venice. Italy. 2009

Wherever ones sees large amounts of tourist in Venice, one will also see African guys (probably illegal aliens) selling pirated big name hand bags.

Each African has a bunch of bags on one arm and a mobile phone in the other hand.

So pretty ladies, how much do you think these bags are?

The guys selling the bags have lookouts letting them know when the brute squad is coming.

I did not think it was a good idea to take another shot

These beefy Carabinieri didn’t look like the kind of guys you would want come to the attention of, so I made myself scarce after taking this shot. I’ve had trouble taking photos of police before and I didn’t want to visit that territory again.

On a side note, if I was a legitimate bag seller in Venice, I’d put on black face and hang a sign in my window saying, “I may be fake, but my bags aren’t”.

The Pommy drug smuggler. Madrid, Spain. 1982

When I left Morocco in 1982 I went by ferry from Tangiers to Algerceris in Spain.  Whilst on the ferry, I met an Englishman who I hit it off with immediately, and is often the case when one is traveling; we decided to travel onwards together.
 
The Englishman wasn’t the only other fellow traveller I met, and soon there was a group of us guys who spent the evening exchanging horror stories about Morocco.  After talking with those guys it was obvious that most of them had gone to Morocco to smoke hash. I could just tell by their talk and bloodshot eyes, that some of them were carrying drugs and it wouldn’t have surprised me if some of them were thinking about smuggling dope into Spain.  I may have done a lot of dumb things in my life, but smuggling drugs is not one of them and I wanted to keep it that way. So I made sure that I checked my luggage before I got off the boat just in case somebody had decided to use me as a courier.
 
After disembarking the ferry at Algerceris, my newfound English friend and I caught the train to Madrid. When we first got on the train, there were plenty of seats and we could stretch out and get a little bit of sleep, but of course that sort of situation never lasts.  During the middle of the night, hundreds of soldiers on leave got onto the train and of course we all had to sit up and nobody was getting any comfortable sleep. To make sure that nobody fell asleep sitting up, the soldiers drank and partied all night.  It was during this uncomfortable time that my traveling companion told me that he had smuggled a condom full of hash oil into Spain by swallowing it.
 
Just before dawn, as I was starting to nod off, my new friend disappeared to the toilet to pass his contraband.  It doesn’t bear thinking about how he sorted it all out in a train lavatory (I can remember thinking at the time that his fingernails were rather dirty), but he came back to his seat with a big smile on his face.  His joy was short lived and his mood quickly turned to irritation, as there was now a sleeping soldier lying across his seat.  So he walked up to the soldiers face, turned around, and let loose a ripper fart into the guy’s sleeping face. 
 
I just couldn’t believe the sheer crazy audacity of the Pom’s action, and in a shot, the Spaniard was up and had his hands around the Englishman’s throat whilst screaming invective at him in Spanish. 

There was going to be blood!

The hullabaloo of course attracted other soldiers, and I was sure we were both about to be beaten to a pulp by a mob.  While the Spanish soldier was throttling my stupid friend, I was frantically trying to calm the situation down.  As the choking English lad’s face was turning a bright red, he struggled vainly to get free and in the meantime the soldier’s comrades, advanced shaking their fists and baying for blood. 

Amazingly, with my broken Spanish, I was able to eventually get everyone to calm down by convincing the soldiers that my friend was a complete idiot and that he was very sorry. The soldier let go of the Englishman, shoving down him into one of the seats and with a threatening gesture, left with his friends.

Whew! That was soooo close.
 
When we got to Madrid, the English guy offered to let me share his tent at a campground.  The tent was a tiny little mountaineering tent called a “Force 10”, but at least it enabled us to stay in Madrid cheaply. 

pom.jpg

One of the first things we did after we got the tent setup was to go off to the nearest bodega and buy the cheapest wine we could get our hands on. We took some empty wine bottles and got them filled up for $.50 each. Strangely enough, I can say this without a doubt, it was absolutely the worst wine that I have ever drunk in my whole life.  It was like drinking hydrochloric acid, and in the morning I had a very bad case of gastric reflux and a killer hangover.

Also, smoking something that had come out of a guy’s backside is a very weird thing to do.

Did I hear someone say…. Good shit?
 
Ahhhh… those were the days!

Casablanca cruising with Bazza. Morocco. 1982

When I used to travel, it was usually on a shoestring budget. At the time it was common for travellers like myself to meet up with other travellers and before long, share hotel rooms with them to cut costs.

When I was in Morocco in 1982, I met up with two other Australians, Bazza and Cazza (not their real names), and we travelled together for a couple of weeks sharing a room. Bazza and Cazza were primary school teachers from the same school and were on their annual leave. Now don’t get the wrong idea, there was nothing “going on” between any of us. Cazza wasn’t attracted to me, Bazza was gay, and I’m straight.

Cazza was travelling with Bazza because she wanted to go somewhere that was exotic and wanted to have a travelling companion without any complications. Cazza just didn’t get Morocco, she’d topless sunbathe on the beach and then get pissed off that she was attracting a crowd of sexually starved locals.

She would’ve been better off at the Club Med in Tahiti.

Whereas Bazza had come to Morocco because he had heard about the stereotype that most Arab men were homosexuals and because he was looking for some action, he was hoping it was true. It was true, in so far as the Moroccan men that Bazza got involved with, were into being the daddy and always wanted him to play the mummy.

If you catch my drift, that is?

One of Bazza’s pet peeves was that the Moroccan men (the ones he was intimate with at least) wouldn’t admit to themselves that they were gay. Bruce hated the idea that he was being used as a surrogate woman until the real thing came along. He told me the same thing had happened on his holidays in the Philippines. 

Ahhh men…..

all over the world, they’re all heartless and selfish bastards!

Both Bazza and Cazza were a lot of fun to be around and I enjoyed my time with them greatly.

One night in Casablanca I decided to go out and take some night shots and Bazza asked if he could come along. “Sure” I said, and I was glad of some company.

Bazza was not only a promiscuous slut, he also had a great sense of humour, plus he was a very interesting and intelligent guy. We wandered around the streets in the muggy night, effortlessly shooting the breeze, with me occasionally taking a photo of whatever caught my eye.

not so easy rider

After a few hours of trudging around we decided to rest our feet and buy some gelato at a cafe.

As we were sitting at our table eating our gelato, Bazza, sitting opposite me, started to purse his lips and make kissing gestures my way. I knew that Bazza knew that I was straight, so I knew the kisses weren’t for me. I slowly turned around and a few tables away was a thin; well dressed; late thirty’s; Moroccan man, blowing kisses back at Bazza.

Bazza waved the Moroccan guy over and so he came and introduced himself to us, shook our hands and joined us at the table. Bazza just stared our new friend with a shocking undisguised lust and this open declaration didn’t seem to be causing any discomfort in our guest. I just didn’t know where to look. After a couple of minutes of this weird staring thing, acknowledging that I was the “third wheel” so to speak, I excused myself from the table, and bolted for home, not expecting to see Bazza for some time.

Within ten minutes of me getting back to the hotel room, Bazza stormed in, all in a fit of rage, and started throwing and kicking things around. During his tantrum, Bazza was ranting, over and over, “all he wanted was to try and sell me drugs!” After a few minutes, Bazza calmed down and explained that as soon as I left, he had asked the Moroccan to go to the Moroccan’s place, which turned out to be a room above the cafe. Once inside the room, Bazza made his move, only to be rebuffed and to have it explained to him, that the Moroccan wanted to sell cocaine to him.

I’ve thought about this incident over the years many times and a few things have occurred to me.

1.Who in their right mind would smuggle cocaine into Morocco, which is not only further away than America, but it’s population of people rich enough to buy coke would be infinitesimal? Obviously it was a scam.
2.What was going on with the blowing the kisses thing? What did the Moroccan guy think? That’s the way in which westerners communicate non-verbally when they want to buy drugs?

Ahhh… life’s rich tapestry!