this post was first posted on the 23rd of April 2007
this post was first posted on the 23rd of April 2007
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.
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
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.
This post was first posted on the 19th of April 2007
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).
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.
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
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
Here’s a recipe for a delicious original sorbet I made up last night.
1 x 800gr tin of halved pears in juice (not syrup).
100gr of sweetened condensed skim milk.
50ml Southern Comfort (optional).
I handful of finely chopped mint.
3 lemons juiced.
1 tbls glucose (this stops the sorbet from freezing into a solid ice block)
To ensure quick foolproof churning in your ice-cream maker, it’s best if all the ingredients (except for the condensed milk and glucose) are chilled over night before using. The lemon juice can be frozen.
Place all the contents of the tin of pears into a food processor and puree. While the food processor is running add the other ingredients to the pears to combine. Once all the ingredients have been completely pureed, empty the food processor contents into the ice-cream maker and churn until your machine stops. Place the churned sorbet in the freezer for a few hours firm up it’s consistancy. If the sorbet is too hard to scoop, just let it sit for a while before serving.
This post was first posted on the 11th of January 2008
One of the best places for flavour and value to eat in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia is Jalan Alor. Jalan Alor (Alor Street) is a street lined with food vendors (they are known locally as hawkers) who cook their food in semi-permanent stalls that are backed onto shop fronts.
Night is the best time to go as it is much more comfortable after the sun has gone down and Jalan Alor really comes alive as the locals and tourist come to feed. Good food, fast and cheap.
This post was first posted on the 22nd of January 2008
If I were to compare Sydney and Melbourne to people, I’d say that Sydney is one of those naturally beautiful but vacuous people who just sits there expecting everyone to adore them just for how they look and Melbourne is one of those plain looking people, who has been forced to develop an interesting personality to attract people.
I not only live in Sydney, I love Sydney, but I also have to say that during my recent visit to Melbourne, I was left with the feeling that Sydney is somewhat lacking. Sydney just seems to be relying on its natural beauty, which comes from being located on a spectacular harbour. Although Sydney has the world-famous Opera house, and the clunky Sydney Harbour Bridge, it’s not a particularly nice city, to walk around. Once one gets away from the harbour, most of Sydney is merely functional rather than beautiful.
There have been articles in the Sydney Morning Herald describing a recent visit by a Danish urban planner, Jan Gehl and his comments about Sydney. Gehl was quoted as saying that Sydney “is a doughnut, because it has nothing in the centre.” I couldn’t agree more.
Melbourne on the other hand has instituted changes suggested by Prof Gehl after studies his team conducted in 1994 and 2004, that have completely transformed that city into a much more liveable place.
Melbourne has many kilometres of cycleways that encourage people to get exercise, and reduce the amount of cars on the road. There is also much more public art in Melbourne. I really enjoyed seeing Duncan Stemler’s “Blowhole”,
a 15 metre (50ft) high wind powered sculpture set in a children’s playground, and John Kelly’s joyously quirky “Cow up a tree”, not only put a smile on my face, it brightened up the rest of my day.
As a matter of fact, many public structures in Melbourne exhibit beauty in their design, more than mere functionality.
When I told my friend that I was going to Melbourne, she recommended that my wife and I take our bicycles. Luckily, I took that advice and spent a few days cycling around Melbourne’s beautiful art filled streets. We’ll be going back to Melbourne again, we loved the place.
As for Sydney… get your act together, Melbourne’s kicking our collective butts!
This post was first posted on the 29th of January 2008
This afternoon, my wife and I fly to Bali for 18 days of holiday.
Since we blew so much money last year, we thought we’d keep things financial down to a dull roar and go somewhere closer to home that is not so expensive.
Bali is to Australia, what Mexico is for Canadians. A place in the sun with a different culture and where everything costs less. Just like Mexico, Bali gets more than it’s fair share of ignorant tourists. As a matter of fact, I think it can be safely said that there a few nationalities who can be more obnoxious overseas than a drunken meathead from Oz.
Many people here in Australia will roll their eyes when you tell them you’re going to Bali. Most Australians automatically think of the Kuta beach area and its bars with Australians behaving badly and the incessant street peddlers. Bali is actually way more than Kuta and while parts of it are fully infested with us Aussies there are still plenty of beautiful places to get away from it all. To my mind, Bali is still one of the nicest places I’ve ever been to and the people are lovely, despite the fact that their home has been a tourist destination for the last 40 or so years.
I won’t be taking a computer, so that means I won’t be posting for the next couple of weeks. As a way to make amends, I’ve scheduled some older posts, that I’m sure some of my more recent visitors haven’t seen but might enjoy, to automatically show up again.
The Alcázar of Segovia was for me, the best grand building I saw on my European trip last year. Most palaces and their selfish and clueless ostentation leave me feeling cold.
Warning bells went off in my head when I read that the Alcázar of Segovia was one of the buildings along with Neuschwanstein in Bavaria, that inspired that great exponent of kitsch and schmaltz, Walt Disney, to design the Wonderland entrance to his amusement parks. I was surprised how much I disliked Neuschwanstein and I wasn’t too optimistic about enjoying Segovia’s main tourist attraction.
We stayed in a very beautiful hotel right at the back of the castle, and as soon as I clapped my eyes on it, I was gob-smacked. Appearing through the early autumn foliage was, what has become for me, the epitome of what a castle could be.
Neuschwanstein rankled me so much because it was so ersatz; tacky in such a mad and over the top sort of way. A pure folly of brainless selfishness.
Segovia’s castle is obviously a defensive structure where some very powerful had people lived, but for me what saved it from being dismissed as yet another monument to greed, was that as far as the palaces I’ve experienced, it was relatively restrained.
Sure, the form of the Alcázar follows function, but there is also plenty of evidence of a desire to build something beautiful that not just the owners will see.
One of the things that struck me about Europe, was the fact that architectural beauty is important. I guess it’s a sad thing about wages becoming more equitable in the first world in this modern age that we live in. No more cheap labour to suck the life out of and exploit. No more decoration, just for the sake of it.
So many buildings (here in Australia at least) are built for a price nowadays and aesthetics have largely been abandoned in much of the public architecture I’ve seen sprouting up lately. For every Renzo Piano or Frank Gehry there seems to be thousands of tasteless architectural versions of Myrmidons, ready to churn out as many eyesores as they can.
Although most of the Alcázar is comparatively modest and functional, compared to so many other royal residences I’ve been to, there has been a fortune spent on the ceilings. It’s obvious where so much new world gold was spent. After all, this was the home of Isabella and Ferdinand, the alpha couple of their time.
As I looked up at the ceilings, I found myself thinking about Christopher Columbus going cap in hand to the King and Queen as he promised to make them so much richer.
The ceilings are proof that Columbus was a man of his word.
Perhaps this heavenwards manifestation of wealth was an early form of prosperity preaching. Go with the right god and you’ll hit the big time. Jesus is my main guy and his co-pilot the pope, let me take all this great stuff from those heathens.
So watch your step, or your arse will be mine!
Despite thoughts about what was done in Isabella and Ferdinand’s names, my wife and I never tired of seeing the Alcázar rising like a beautiful Renaissance stone battleship, out of the rocks.