Hamish's Travel Diary Stuff

As you may or may not be aware, Hamish, our former President, Journal Editor, veggie, green campaigner and walking carpet decided to spend a year or so travelling to Australia via Asia. Being a generally nice sort of chap he decided to send us a huge amount of email detailing his travels and it's great stuff so I've put it online here: enjoy. I'm sure someone else with less connection to Hamish than myself will take this off someday, but for now it can stay where it is :-)

31/10/98

Hello folks

I'm off soon - monday morning in fact. I'm starting off hitching to prague and then down to turkey, followed by pakistan india, nepal etc. I will end up in Australia sometime next year (april maybe). I'll let you all know when I get an address there and you can all come and visit me there ...

In the meantime I'll be looking at my email from time to time, when I get the chance, so send the occaisional missive my way, and I'll try and send some back.

bye for now
Hamish

07/11/98

Hello peeps

thanks to all those who have emailled me - it was really cool to find lots of messages when I loged on - keep 'em coming

I made it to Prague. I hitched and it took four days and was kind of fun - I met a few interesting people on the way and slept at one boring ferry port and two boring german service stations. Most of my lifts could speak reasonable english, but a girl I met at the german czech border couldn't - she spoke spanish and esperanto and was from the Dominican republic. It was interesting trying to communicate with her but we made it to prague.

While here I've had a wander, drank some beer and met lots of americans and seen lots of germans. There are one or two brits and aussies about, but I've mostly seen americans.

We found a lock in last night - we left at 4am but others in there were still drinking (and trying to get a dog to eat bits of bread from various parts of a comatose person).

Life's cool, hope you're all well

bye for now
Hamish

10/11/98

Hello again people

I left Prague and got the train down to Vienna, having spent a lot of money while going around town with some american students, who kept saying "everything is sooo cheap" (it wasn't that good in the tourist areas)

Vienna's cool, but quite expensive, so I'm gong to get a night train to Transylvania (this keyboard is annoying, the y and z keys have been swapped and its full of strange characters and umlauts, the next few letters might be interesting on your display ö Ö ä Ä ß § )

The train stops at Arad at 4:30 in the morning which is going to be lovely ...

The architecture is stunning around here, and there's lots of it, all över the place, millions of statues of god knows who are practically littering the streets. Lots of bits of gold. Anyway (too many y's in words) I'll sign off now and who knows where I'll next be able to check email ...

bye for now
Hamish

13/11/98

Well bugger me sideways with a broomstick, they've got a cybercafe in the middle of transylvania - wow

thanks again for more emails, news and hints and tips. I'm replying to a few of you, but can't do you all (in a manner of speaking)

Anyway, I am now in transylvania. I got a train from Vienna to Arad and got off at 5am (chatted to a romanian bloke who told me all romanians are on the make). I then managed to waste half a day before getting to Timosoara (where the romanian revolution was started). It was quite nice, but I decided to move on and get a train to Brasov that night.

I spoke to some information person, and he told me (by writing it down) that there was a train leaving at 7ish and getting to Brasov at 3:30. OK

I grabbed some food and beer (and chatted to another local who told me "all romanians are shit" (his words) and then caught the train.

3:30 came and went and there was no sign of Brasov. I ended up in Sucerva (never heard of it? - neither have I) and had to get ANOTHER train back to Brasov, eventually arriving at 7 yesterday evening - a journey of over 23 hours

whoops

anyway, I was accosted by Maria, who runs some nice accomodation here and she took nice motherly care of me (but she talks more and faster than anyone else i have met - and she says she is still learning english!). Today I have seen the castle at Bran (associated(ish) with Dracula) which was cool and wandered about Brasov. Tomorrow I head for Bucharest and an overnight train to Sofia. Hopefully I will get the right trains and the Bulgarian border police will not object too strongly to me ...

bye for now
Hamish

17/11/98

Hello again folks, it's your wandering scribe here.

I'm now in Sofia, firing off an email before getting the night bus to Istanbul. My first stop in Bulgaria (land of funny cyrillic alphabet - but it's not too bad) was Koprivshtitsa (far too many letters, and the cyrillic form isn't much better).

Kop.. is beautiful, peaceful and nearly deserted (at this time of year). It is a small town - you can walk across it in half an hour - in a wooded valley. There are no concrete "living" black anywhere, which is a nice contrast to the rest of eastern europe, the roads are cobbled and there are almost as many horse drawn vehicles as motor driven, and not many of either. Then there are a few preserved houses with built in sofas of ridiculous length - getting on for 10m in some rooms.

Sofia is quite fun, though more hassle, and it really helps to work out the cyrillic. I've done a lot of walking around town and sitting on trams as my place is along way out of town. Anyway, that's about that, and I'm looking forward to slowing down a bit in Turkey for a few weeks.

bye for now
Hamish

20/11/98

now it's İstanbul, not Constantinople, been a long tıme gone has Constantinople, why dıd Constantinople get the works? That's nobodys business but the Tuuurrks ...

This place is cool (even if it does have a funny ı where the i should be - apologies for any typıing mıstakes due to this). İt also has variatıons on g, u, s, c, o - ğ, ü, ş, ç, ö

Anyway, transport here was a relative doddle compared to other journeys. İ came by bus and was going to the end of the line, so İ didn't have all the hassles of eastern european raıl travel - worrying at each stop where there was one sign mıles from my carraıge, no announcements to tell you where you are, no map of the rail journey so you can work out where you are, no timetables at stations so you know when you get in (esp. useful for nıght journeys).

We even got tea and water served on the bus, and free soup at one stop, and all for half the prıce of the traın - no complaints.

İstanbul has loads of hostels (and internet points). İ've seen the Topkapi Palace wıth its impressive hareems, the Bosphorous dıvıdıng Europe from Asia (all these names mean more than the local fast food joınt now), the AyaSofya mosque (old church), walked a lot, sampled the local cuisine (lovely and very cheap ıfmore than 100m from the tourıst trail), had hundreds of kids offer to polish my shoes (trainers), and had the carpet salesman treatment (but not bought anything) and even sent a few postcards. Lovely place

İ've also applıed for an iranian vısa again having met some folk here who have got one. Fıngers crossed and all that.

Tomorrow İ'm off to Cappadocia - land of strange rock structures and underground cities, possıbly with snow on top at this time of year. Sounds like fun to me and ıt wıll also be my first time in Asia...

bye for now
Hamish

25/11/98

WOW

really, just

wow

The landscape here is truly rediculous - lots of pointy bits of rock from 5m to 20m tall, underground cities, rooms burrowed into the side of the rock with lots of cool little passages to explore. I've spent four or five days here, and there is still loads to discover. Tomorrow I will prob go on a tour around some of the more distant sights, including the place where the start of the first star wars film was filmed, should be cool.

I've also hooked up with some other backpackers here, mainly from Oz, but also some kiwis and a brit. I'm staying in a really nice place called Flintstones (half in a rock face) run by an aussie called lisa - excellent little place.

I had a turkish bath for the first time the other day, and that was really good, getting rid of all the old dead skin and getting REALLY clean. Lovely.

My next stop is Olympos on the south coast, where there is a hostel in a tree house and ruins in jungles to explore Indiana Jones stylee. I may not get to email again for a while (until I'm back in Istanbul - prob. a week or so).

Thanks to those who sent emails of whatever variety

bye for now
Hamish

17/01/99

Hamish managed to get a postcard out and it eventually reached us:
Front
Back
Translated (it's a bit hard to read online), it says:

"Hello everyone, I can see these mountains out my window (well I could if it were light anyway). There's a bit more snow on them at the moment and it's pretty cold down here as well. Bloody freezing in fact, I've got a fleece and wooly hat on at the moment and I'm inside. Tomorrow (18th January) I head back south but it's been great up here, running around the valleys, following dodgy paths with big drops off the crumbling side and even more fun suspension bridges, which have 7 cables and the occasional cross plank. I'm going to have to come back when I have more time, some climbing kit + when it's a bit warmer. Anyone fancy organising a CCMC meet out here? It's so nice to be so far from the flatlands. I've now got to chose between the Indian and Nepalese Himalaya for my next stop. Hope consumption of beer, tea, biccies and lard has not slacked off in my absence - Hamish"

24/01/99

Hello

Well I'll start from when I entered iran. The border crossing was easy and customs simply asked what I had in my bag - they didn't actually look inside - pretty simple really. At Maku, I met a Mr Hussain (not saddam in case you're wondering). Hemade friends with me and invited me to stay with him in Tabriz. He wouldn't take no for an answer, and I ended up staying for two nights. He is a car mechanic, and also runs a spare parts shop. He also seems pretty well off with a huge apartment done up nicely, and had gone to see iran play in the world cup, and i met him after he had driven a mercedes back from germany but had to leave it at the border because of paperwork.

So they looked after me and praticed their limited english, introduced me to friends (good friends were introduced as "He is very my friend"). It was kind of fun, but was a little trying as it was so constant, I was not left alone for a moment (as part of the hospitality), but most of the time I could not chat to people. Quite fun anyway, but only for a limited period of time.

I was surprised that quite alot of people in iran speak a bit of english, despite the government trying so hard to isolate the people from the outside world. Also, there were only three types of foreign cars common there - Renault 5, Citroen 2CV and VW Beetles - i never worked out why.

The people are all really friendly aswell, sometimes too much. If you are walking down the street, at least 1 in 10 people say hello to you. If you sit down in a park you are likely to be approached after less than 5 minutes by people interested in you. people learning the language want to practice speaking with a native speaker (I was once asked by a group of students what supercallifragilisticexpealidocious meant)(not sure if I spelt that right) It's nice to have friendly people, but it would also be nice to be left alone sometimes. Ah well.

I was also surprised about how women were in iran. They all have to wear the chador (covering the hair and neck though the whole face is visible, not just the eyes) but apart from that they seem relatively "liberated". They are allowed to drive and wander around by themselves, without their husband or father, they are all over the place going about their daily business, there are a lot at university and a few even approached me in the streets to talk to a foreigner, though it is illegal for women to talk to strange men on the street.

In fact, a lot of the young people have very little respect for islam, and esp. the conservative religous ministers who run the country. Most people I spoke to wanted a freer society and better relations with the west. Some said it was better under the shah.

There are of course a few hardliners about. At friday prayers during the bombing of iraq, i saw about 10,000 people chanting "Marg bar Amrika" - death to america. No flags were burnt though which was a little disappointing. After this, many locals apologised to us for the extremist minority who were bussed in for these events (and we saw the buses). Overall iranians are very friendly people and they distinguish between the government of a country, and people from that country. They were universally outraged by the bombing of iraq, but saw no need to attack us personally because of it. They were more interested in our views about it.

Anyway, the places I went to in iran were esfahan, yazd, shiraz and bam. I skipped Tehran having heard nothing good about it, and i also saw reports that schools were closed because the air pollution was too bad at the time I passed by.

Esfahan is a beautiful place, with some great tea houses on bridges over the river, which is a wonderful place to relax and watch the day goodbye, while having the occasional puff of apple tobacco on the chillums. Ramadan stopped all this which was a great shame.

Near Shiraz there is an ancient ruined city called Persepolis. There is not so much left now, but what is left demonstrates that the scale must have been ENORMOUS, with carvings covering most available surfaces.

Christmas day started in a bus between shiraz and kerman, I spent 2 hours being cold in a bus station in Kerman, and then got another bus to Bam, where the day beacame a lot better. I got there around 10am, but got off the bus early, and was a bit lost in the wrong part of town, until 2 kids put me (with my sac) on the back of their motorbike and the three of us zoomed across town to where I wanted to go.

At Bam there is a wonderful citadel, called the Arg-e-Bam. It is made from mud brick and is now semi restored. The inner citadel is almost completely restored, and has great views, but the outer area covers about 6 sq. kms with a wall around it and is still in ruins. It's a great place to wander about. The dates available in the town are great aswell.

it was with some regret that I left iran after only two weeks that I left iran and entered pakistan. I was really surprised by the change in standards at the border. The roads and vehicles, quality of tap water (perfectly good to drink in almost all of Iran), and cleanliness of stuff deteriorated a lot, and it made me realise that iran is in most respects a lot nearer to europe than the third world, despite being rediculously cheap - even cheaper than pakistan. I heard there was skiing near tehran, where equipment hire and lift passes added up to $2 a day.

My first stop in pakistan was Quetta, reached by a 12 hour overnight journey in a cramped minibus on crap roads. There I met a czech couple who were going overland to india, but purely because it was cheaper than flying. There was also a brit whose parents came from pakistan, and had now spent about a year in pakistan.

We got a train together - them to lahore and me to Rawalpindi. The train takes the long way round, and I was on it for 43 hours, arriving on the morning of new years eve. i met some more brits in 'pindi and we went to the british club in islamabad, and had mince pies and cans of bitter- my first alcohol in nearly a month.

I'm bored of writing this email now, so I'll write more about pakistan next time (which looks like it will be in india unless I come back here tomorrow)

bye for now
Hamish
Lahore

09/02/99

Hello

I'm now in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India (yes it is where the silly riding trousersa get their name from). I haven't written for a bit because email in India is pretty expensive (esp. compared to the price of everything else) and unreliable. Pakistan was actually quite a lot better despite frequent power cuts.

I've now met up with Corin, a greenie friend from the UK (I have actually known his brother Tristram better up to now) but it's good to be able to talk about the same people and he's got a similar mindset to me. So life's cool out here. We're about to head off the tourist track to an area called Shakawati (I think). I've also been through Pushkar, Jaipur and Amritsar in India.

But for the moment, back to Pakistan. I think the last thing I said was new year, so I'm a bit behind. New Year's Day was a friday, and all the embassies were closed, so I had to wait around in pindi until monday to apply for the indian visa. I was told that I needed a letter from the british embassy which would cost $60, so I decided to wait and hope some other brits came along so i could share the cost of the letter with them (I later found out that the letter was not necessary, but only after I had got it anyway).

Tuesday came and I was still in pindi, planning to head north in the evening, but while sitting at breakfast I looked to up find Amy coming down the stairs. Amy is a friend from uni, who is still at uni, but she had helped at an archeological dig in India over the xmas hols, and due to it being finalised rather late in the day had had to fly to and from Islamabad instead of Delhi - hence her appearance. She was also with Emily, who I had met a few times. So we spent the day together wandering around pindi and catching up. She left early the following morning taking a few hastily written postcards of mine with her. I think that must count as the least expected meeting so far by quite a stretch.

The next day I headed north along the Karakoram Highway (KKH) to Gilgit. I got an overnight bus which took a total of 18 hours. The views (in the morning) were stunning, though reduced due to lowish cloud, which was a pity. The road is quite a feat of engineering, clinging improbably to the side of big cliffs avbove the Indus river. I only saw one vehicle which wasn't on the road ...

In Gilgit I met a Canadian working on a local water hygiene project who was a nice bloke, and the next day three climbers from britain turned up, with a fair bit of kit between them. The day after I was bought low by a bout of giardia (nasty diorrhea). I found the right drugs and killed it, but I had to lay low for about 3 days, before escaping further along the KKH.

Karimabad was the next stop, followed by Passu. These are little villages in the Hunza valley. The views up here are truly wonderful, and the temperature was bloody freezing. The hot water bottle I had taken with me has got to be the best buy yet. I spent most of the days trekking about in splendid isloation. It's apparently full of foriegners trekking in the summer months, but now I had it all to myself - a lot of the treks I did didn't even go close to local inhabitants.

I then headed back south and spent a few days in Peshawar, which is near the old Khyber pass which goes to Kabul in Afghanistan. While there I met a danish woman who was about to go there by herself - she already had the visa and other kit. There were a few other interesting characters about - an american guy who had spent 3 years at Bangor university, an iranian refugee bible basher and a german who seemed to have spent most of the last 5 years trekking in the himalaya. There was also a lot of drugs around. I was offered hasish at least 5 times a day, and was once offered the chance to go and see a hash factory ...

I was there for the festival of Eid, marking the end of ramadam, the month of fasting. There were lots of happy people about, eating in street cafes, little boys with black eye make up and little girls done up with new dresses and make up and stuff. And the shops were all closed.

My final stop in Pakistan was Lahore. They have a big fort with large gardens inside which are surprisingly large, and pretty relaxing. There is an entrance built with the idea of letting elephants in, and an adjacent stairway also built for the jumbos. Lahore also has an excellent museum, with a good collection of buddhist sculpture and some excellent contemporary work.

On the way out I looked in at the museum shop and ended up drinking tea and eating with the friendly people inside. The items for sale were hardly mentioned, despite staying there for the best part of an hour.

That's what I can be bothered to write for now, India will be in the next email.

bye for now

Hamish

20/02/99

Hello folks

Thanks for all the emails again. I'm now in Bikaner, still in Rajasthan. I've just spent over a week in a town called Nawalgarh in the Shekhawati region, where there was a local festival and we were almost the only foreigners in town. Corin had made some local friends on a visit a few weeks previously, and they looked after us well. Now I'm off to tourist central - Jaisalmer - and a camel trek in the Thar desert.

A quick word about my email address. I have set up a forwarding address - hamish@stones.com - so that if my main email address changes in future (eg. if I get a computing job in Oz) then everyone can keep sending email to hamish@stones.com and it will go to which ever email address I am using at the time. I'll still be on hotmail for a while though. (If that confused you then don't worry about it)

Back to the plot. I entered India at the Wagah border crossing going from Lahore to Amritsar. Amritsar is the home of the Golden Temple, the most sacred Sikh shrine. The temple itself is quite small and is covered in gold. It is in the middle of a pool and has a walkway going out to it. In it there is constant drumming and singing, and it was nice to chill out for a while listening to the music.

The sikhs welcome people of all faiths and none, and provide free accomodation and food to all. Both are pretty basic, but still quite acceptable. The kitchens are open 24 hours, and serve 30-40,000 people a day.

I travelled down to jaipur with an australian couple I met in Amritsar, and on the way we met one Capt. Ricky, Air India, retd. as he introduced himself. He was a nice bloke, and seemed very english in his outlook. He almost seemed to regret independence, and had had to move during the partition leaving him with a pretty low opinion of the Pakistanis. He also told us how first class used to be. Apparently there was one main compartment, with an adjoining compartment for the servants. At some point, everyone would get dressed up, move to a different carraige while the train was stopped (no corridors) and be served dinner in the dining car, before moving back at a different stop.

Jaipur was strange for me, as there were actually lots of foreigners in town. This was the first time I had seen this since leaving Istanbul nearly two months previously. This means there are lots of people trying to make money out of you. When in tourist areas most people ignore indians who approach them, as most just want to make money, but the ones I came across in Jaipur were quite cunning. They first asked why we never talk to indians, and at some point they ask about skinheads, trying to soften you up. They also say you are a traveller rather than a tourist. Very clever.

The scam they are leading up to is taking gems and jewellery worth $10000 back home with you. You hand them over to someone there, and make some money as they have not had to pay tax. They need a deposit from you of course, and whether what you get is worth anywhere near the deposit you give, or if you find anyone to meet you when you get home is doubtful.

Next stop was Pushkar, a small town with a holy lake and LOTS of tourists. The main street is almost entirely devoted to the needs and wants of tourists, giving it a rather unnatural feel. I played a bit of chess there and met a few interesting people.

Then I went to Jodhpur and metup with Corin. I also bumped into two girls I had met in Turkey - Wookie and Racheal. They travelled seperately, and I met them at diffent times. They had met each other though, and Wookie had met Corin in Budapest. The overland trail seems quite small. I bumped into some people a few different times, and there were also quite a few folk that both me and Corin had met on our seperate trips.

Jodhpur has a big nice fort and a big palace/hotel which has a museum attached. We found an area with loads of bats in the fort, and there were lots of cannons on teh battlements with great views over the city, showing lots of houses painted blue.

Nawalgarh is in the next email, to stop this one getting too long.

bye for now

Hamish

20/02/99

Hello again, to continue

Then we went to Nawalgarh, to meet Corin's friends Ram and Ramdaan, and to see the festival. Ram worked in a telephone shop, which is where Corin had met him, and Ramdaan was a good friend of his who was on a six month break from his job in Saudi. He ran a shop there and had spent 4 years working 6am to 11pm without a day off before his present break. There was apparently almost no work available locally. His first child was born after he started work, and his wife is pregnant again now, while Ramdaan has just gone back to work again.

They looked after us pretty well, providing all our meals apart from breakfast, taking us around town, and to nearby towns. Ramdaan had a moped which would often carry 3 of us around the roads. God knows how the suspension survived. The local towns had lots of havelis, old buildings belonging to merchents which were painted with all sorts of stuff. There were elephants, camels and horses being ridden about. There were lots of paintings of the hindu gods and scenes from hindu mythology. There were portraits of the owners and their families. I saw a few portraits of what looked like Brits and a few of Queen Victoria. There were trains and cars occasionally. The paintings were often in a poor state, but there were still a lot of really good ones. Very few are actively being restored.

The festival itself was really good. We saw most of the evenings where there was music and dance, but there were also some traditional sports and performances by horses and camels. It was vey impressive to see the camel handlers getting these stubborn ugly beasts to do anything out the ordinary, but they pranced about, and one managed to briefly rear up on to its hind legs. They also lifted legs up and let the handlers sit on their neck (or most did, one or two didn't co-operate).

The music was often a bit poor, but the dancing was wonderful. Most of the dancers were female, and often rather attractive, though there were also a few men. We saw one women who danced with a stack of 7 pots on her head, adding at least 4 feet to her height. Another night there were lots of young girls on. The youngest must have been less than 10 years old, and there were a few around 12 or 13. Most scarpered as soon as it was over - not too surprising in front of a crowd that must have been over 5000 - though one girl seemed entirely comfortable with the situation and happily took the applause. She was very good.

We were the only foreigners who went to the festival and as such we attracted LOTS of attention, esp. as Corin is 6'5" and has dreadlocks. I was much less of an attraction, and could stand about 5m away from Corin and be practically ignored. It was a bit like Iran again, but the behaviour of the indians is rather different. We would attract crowds of up to 50 people who would stand immediately around us. Most people would just stare. Sometimes they would talk among themselves and make jokes about us and sometimes they would ask us the standard questions - where are we from, what are our names, how old are we, what are our jobs ... it often gets tiresome, but there is no real way around it so you just have to get on with it.

We also got special treatment at the festival, being given front row seats, even if that meant blocking other people's view of the stage. We would occasionaly try to stay where we were, but it normally just led to more fuss being made and more attention being drawn to us until we gave in. Resistance was useless.

One of the best aspects of our stay was just experiencing the daily life of the people, and its slow pace. Sometimes it seems excruitiatingly slow compared to what we're used to. Things we would do in 5 minutes often take half an hour, but once you've learnt that and made allowances for it, it is quite pleasant. We saw how the households worked when we went for our meals in the houses and met their lovely wives.

We also met Ram's guru. (Ram is hindu and Ramdaan is muslim). He was a cool old man whose explanations in less than perfect english were still very good. We learnt quite a bit about hinduism from him. We also attended a hindu ceremony at Ram's family house which was really interesting. There was a lot of chanting of mantras, throwing offerings on to the divine fire which had been set up and other symbolic actions. It took about 2 hours and the whole family was involved.

I think that's enough for now. I have a day in Bikaner, and tonight I go to Jaisalmer.

bye for now

Hamish

01/03/99

Hello again

Just a quick note as I have a train to catch in half an hour. Thanks again for the various and nefarious emails. Somebody has decided to put my emails on the web on the climbing website, along with a postcard, at http://www.chu.cam.ac.uk/ccmc/hamish.htm :)

Anyway, I've been to the desert city of Jaisalmer, which is beautiful, and not too spoilt by being packed with tourists. I did a camel trek there for 6 days, along with a few french people who were cool, but only stayed for 3 days. Really good.

I'm now on my way to Ramthanborne national park to see some tigers in the wild before they become extinct (in about 10 years), then having a quick poke around the Taj Mahal and Delhi before heading north to Dharamsala and maybe seeing the Dalai Lama.

That's all for now folks

Hamish

07/03/99

Hello everyone

I'm now in Delhi, city of cheap(ish) email and lots of pollution and sooty stuff. Yippee. Hopefully I won't have to be here too long, and I should shortly be escaping to some lovely mountains in the state of Himachal Pradesh. Also, it should be cooler than down in the plains, or even in the desert - more on that in a minute.

Thanx as always for the messages coming back to me. More welcome, esp. any with good travel advice or nice places to visit (to add to my list of places I'm not going to have time to see ...) And to those with exams, don't let them take over your life or anything like that.

Anyway, I will take up the story again from Jaisalmer. Jaisalmer is a little town in the Thar desert, not so far from the Pakistan border. It has a great fort, which people still live and work in, in the crowded narrow streets inside (too narrow for most vehicles). It's very picturesque and is the place where lots of people do a camel trek from. It has huge numbers of tourists, but is still a very chilled place to go, with pretty low levels of hassle from the tourist industry, combined with the local population being used to westerners. Bliss.

On our first evening we met a french trio at the govt licensed bhang shop. We liked them and decided to go on our camel trek with them. We wanted to go for 6 days, though they were only going for 3 days, but that was OK with the bloke organising everything, so off we went. We also had an american couple and a british woman called lizz for company.

Being in the desert was wonderful. There was no motor traffic, no low doors, the beds (the floor) was long enough for us and generally there was very little out there in terms of people or man amde things. It was not a purely sand desert - there was quite a bit of scrub and trees about - but we did spend two nights by sand dunes which were excellent things for pissing about on. We saw some wonderful sunsets and were vaguely concious during the nice sunrises.

The camel riding did cause discomfort for the first day or two, but we soon got used to it and were able to read, chat, sing, or simply sit back and watch the desert slide slowly past. We generally spent a few hours riding in the morning and afternoon, and sat out the height of the heat under a tree while having lunch for a few hours. The food was basic, but never lacked in quantity.

My camel was Bardia, an older male who frequently dropped off the pace, but was otherwise pretty well behaved. I came to quite llike him by the end. We had a good set of camel men with us aswell, who did some good singing and did almost everything for us in terms of making and breaking camp and all the cooking.

At one lunch, Corin chatted to Lizz and mentioned that he was thinking of chopping off his dreadlocks, and she persuaded him that now was the time to do it, so he did - with a pocket knife - all 39 of them. Quite a change. The french trio and Liz were still in town when we returned and we parted company as good friends.

Our next stop was Ramthanborne National Park, where we were hoping to see a tiger or two. You cannot just go in, you have to sit on the back of canters - flat bed trucks with seats bolted on. The drivers only seem to stop for deer (which are nice but we soon got bored of) and tigers. There wasn't much tranquility, and not too much chance to see the smaller wildlife, or to appreciate a bit of life passing by. We went three times, once in the morning and twice in the afternoon.

We saw a tiger on the morning trip - from a distance of about 50 m in some dense undergrowth, and only got a good view for a few seconds. We also heard we'd missed 2 sightings,one from 2m, on the morning trip we missed.

The town was crap, but that was where we were for the festival of Holi,when everyone covers each other in coloured powders. Even as foriegners (or should that be especially for foreigners) particpation is compulsary at the receiving end. We got out some plain tops and got covered - mainly on our faces - in reds and greens and blues and yellows and purples and even a little silver paste, by everyone who came past.

After that, we have come quickly through Fathepur Sikri and Agra, two capitals of the Mughal Empire (the on before the Brits). Fathepur Sikri was abandoned and still has a pretty small population. It has a pretty impressive mosque and palace, but I've got a bit jaded about all that stuff having seen some of the best the world has to offer. I think Esfehan in Iran was prob. my favourite.

And then there was Agra, home to (yet another) big fort, where I saw John Prescott wandering about, and the old Taj Mahal, which you all know about, and I can't be bothered to explain any extra. I did meet someone I originally met in iran there. That's enough for now.

bye for now

Hamish

02/04/99

Hello again folks

I'm in Varanasi now having spent 2 weeks in Mcloed Ganj in the mountains. But it's back to the heat just for the moment, at least until Nepal and some HUGE mountains.

My present plans are to go to nepal for a month(ish) and then go and explore Darjeeling, Sikkim and Assam and the NE of India generally. The monsoon hits in early June, so i'll prob. then fly to thailand, explore there and some/all of cambodia, Loas and vietnam, before working my way down thru Malaysia Singapore and indonesia to australia. And then getting some work as i'll have no money left. That'll be July or august, probably ...

Rewinding a little, delhi was noisy and polluted, but the gandhi museum was very interesting. I left my camera to be fixed. They said one week and I was planning to be away for longer than that. OK. We then escaped from the heat to Dalhousie, a little summer retreat in the hills, at an altitude of 2000m. It was pretty cold, but a really nice quiet place to relax for a day or two.

We went on to chamba where there are lots of hindu temples which the muslims never managed to destroy (the muslims ruled india before the british). They were quite cool, with the towers seeming to bulge a lot. The valley was really beautiful aswell, and we sat about up the hills one day, watching the world go by.

And then we came to Mcloed Ganj. It is home to a lot of tibetans including the dalai lama, the govt. in exile, about 5000 monks and lots of folk running hotels and restaurants (and internet cafes, there are at least 6 in this small town). It is in the foothills of the himalaya, and snowy mounains are visible not so far away. It's kind of odd to wander about and see monks in their saffron robes going about their business.

I spent many hours in a small cafe called the sunrise - "the best chai in asia" as the sign said. Many hours were spent playing chess, reading, singing and listening to others songs, and talking. Especially to Patrick, a bit of a nutter from sweden. He'd been a taxi driver in stockholm previously, but had now lived in mcloed for 8 years and has a french accent when speaking english. He is also a magician (or so he says). What ever powers he may have he is permanently happy and overenthusiastic. nice guy.

I also found dave heath, a friend from uni, there. We'd originally planned to meet in delhi for xmas, but the plan had gone well out the window, and dave is now back in the UK.

Four of us went up to triund for a night - a little area at 2700m which has a cafe and caves you can sleep in. It's 3-4 hours walk from Mcloed, and the snow line of the mountains above is a further 2 hours(ish). It was really beautiful up there, and fairly cold. We had some nice pizza at a little cafe in the hills on the way down. It was great to be away from the traffic for a day or two.

I was planning to be in delhi to see corin off on his flight home, but then there were rumours of an audience with his holiness the dalai lama (or hh for short). So I stayed a few extra days for that. It was an interesting experience. You had to register a day or two in advance. On the day itself we all (95% of the tourists in town - over 500 people) had to line up in two queues (one men, one women) in the order in which we had registered, and file through the indian and tibetan security checks.

Then we were left in a big mass for a while, until hh appeared behind us all and we all filed past, shook his hand as he said the tibetan for hello, and maybe got a white scarf blessed, and then we went away with smiles on our faces. hh was smiling and happy all the time,which is quite something to do for that many people.

So eventually i got to delhi, and caught up with dave again. I went to the camera place, 3 weeks after leaving my camera with them to find they hadn't even looked at my camera, but "it will be ready in the morning". In the morning (well, midday, when the shop opened) the original problem was fixed, but now the flash didn't work - "it will take about 2 or 3 hours". My train left in four and a half hours. But it was done OK in the end, though now I can't turn the flash off. Oh well.

But I got the train, and am now being too hot in Varanasi with the Ganges and a few burning bodies.

bye for now

Hamish

16/04/99

Hello folks

It's wierd here - they have lots of western food (or at least reasonable approximations to it) and they have bars where you can go and have a drink in quite nice surroundings - first time I've seen them since Istanbul 4 months ago. At the same time this place is fairly relaxed, especially where I am staying. The road is known universally as freak street, from the days of the hippy overland trail. It's a lot more relaxed than the present tourist ghetto of thamel, though even that is nothing like the paharganj in delhi.

Varanasi was HOT - nearly 40 deg C - and the power was off every day so that the fans didn't work. I was there for 8 days in the end as a bad case of diaorrhea meant I couldn't survive without a toilet for long enough to get the bus to the border for a few days.

Nonetheless it was a pretty relaxed place. I did the normal tourist bit of doing a boat trip at dawn and watching a few bodies being burnt. Dawn is really nice, the Ganges river only has buildings on the west bank, so the view of sunrise is clear. The light is great and there are loads of boats being rowed around. It is interesting to watch the big groups in big boats being followed around by little boats selling bottles of coke, postcards and souvenirs.

The ghats (steps down to the river) were great to sit on and just watch life go by. Apart from the dead bodies being burnt at one or two places, there are the devout bathing, clothes and dishes being washed, games of cricket up the stairs a bit, the tourists and the kids trying to sell stuff, the sadhus (men off on a spiritual quest) with their dreadlocks and chillums.

I also visited nearby Sarnath, where the Buddha gave his first teaching after being enlightened. It's a calm peaceful place with a mix of ruins, modern temples and grassy spaces with lots of trees.

Then, near the india-nepal border I went to the birthplace of buddha - Lumbini. It was similar, with a huge burmese monstery and stupa under construction. It also had the interesting sight of a buddha statue with a halo of flashing LEDs.

And so to Kathmandu, which is fairly hot, but not rediculously so. It has lots of pagoda style temples and buddhist stupas, and a big tourist population. I've met people I met previously in mcloed ganj, rajasthan, istanbul and even one bloke who met my sister in poland last summer.

I've also visited a little permaculture farm on the edge of town and done a little work there. I'll be back tomorrow to harvest some wheat, starting a 7:30 am ... urgh.

So now I'm planning a little trek and some rafting. I've bought a jacket which has The North Face and Goretex labels for about GBP 8.50 - though the shop owner readily admitted it was all local stuff - and I may have to hire a tent if I find someone to go over the Ganga La pass with me.

Hope you all had a good easter

bye for now

Hamish

14/05/99

Hello again folks

I'm about to leave nepal after a great three week trekking trip. I went up to the Helambu and Langtang region north of Kathmandu. The start was big valleys but no big mountains, with lots of villages and terraced fields dropping away into the haze - the feat of construction is incredible.

Then there was a little roller coaster ride (up and down and up and down and up and down and up and down and ...) through rhodedendrum forest towards the Laurebina La pass (4609m) and on to the Gosainkund lakes. The lakes are beautiful and a site of hindu pilgrimage every august. Apparently the god Shiva fought with and killed a dragon and through it down, drowning the fire with water creating the lakes (or something like that). It was a nice place to chill out for a while, have a rest day and they were some great views in the morning.

Then I went down towardsa place called thulo syabru. This involved a descent of over 2000m descent in one day. I was walking with a girl called Katya, and one of her knees became really painful. By the time we got to the village (and got a little lost in the process, clambering over walls and going down steep paths) she'd had a serious sense of humour failure. Fortunately we were quite close to the start of the langtang trek, so she could walk out the next day and get a bus back to kathmandu.

I continued up the langtang valley by myself. The forest was wonderful and seemed to be from another time. It thinned out up the valley and the valley became flatter aswell. I ended up staying a week at Kyanjin Gompa at the top of the valley. There are lots of good day walks in the area, including Tserko Ri which is either 5033 or 4986m depending which map you look at. I walked up with a swiss couple and we spent about 2 hours on the top. The views around were incredible. We also had an eagle (or some big bird of prey) hover about 20m above us in the wind for a few minutes.

The main reason I was at the end of the valley for so long is that I was hoping someone would turn up with a tent so I could join them in making the crossing of the Ganja La pass, which requires 3 nights of camping. I did meet someone eventually - an american called Emmanuel. Nice lad.

So we went up and spent a night at "base camp" below the pass. That evening it snowed. Lots. In the morning there was lots of high cloud and the weather looked poor (it rained a lot over the next few days) so we turned back and left the valley. Another year.

The bus back to Kathmandu was great fun. i was travelling upper class (the roof). The views were much better than inside. We had to jump back in the bus at military checkpoints as you're not really meant to be on the roof, but you climb back on as soon as you're past - not that the bus stops to facilitate that, you juyst have to step out the door and on to the adjacent ladder. Between that and the occasional low branch or cable it was great fun.

So I'm back here for a few days, but will shortly be off to india again, to darjeeling and sikkim, which get great reviews from most people who go that way. Thanks for the various emails from everyone, keep them coming.

To CCMC - enjoy the weekend and don't climb (or should that be drink) too much.

bye for now

Hamish

20/05/99

Hi folks

Keep those emails coming, it's great to hear news from back home (haven't heard much from the co-op for a while though, is anyone still there?). If you're about to leave uni, could you let me have an alternative email address if you have one, cheers. And if anyone doesn't want any more of these then just let me know.

I'm in the land of nice tea now, and still in the hills. I had to descend to the heat of the plains on the way which was bloody hot - sweating at night when the fan is on. The last few days in Kathmandu were nice and relaxed, sorting out a few things, drinking tea here and there and watching the world go by.

Then I got a bus to Janakpur in the terai - the plains in nepal, an altitude of maybe 200m. It was HOT. There were general elections on the following day, which meant there were no buses running so I had to sit about a lot waiting for the next day. There wasn't that much in town to look at so it was a bit boring.

So the next day I was up at 4am and went to find a bus. I found a bus which was gong in the right direction (as far as I could make out - I kept saying the name of the border crossing and no one seemed to want me to get off). As we go through the town there was a big hissing and then we rolled to a stop. A little bit of runnig about and we get gong again. A few miles down the road the brakes go again - fortunately on a nice straight bit with no traffic coming. The next bus turns up in 30 mins or so and its brakes work so we manage to go.

After a while we cross a big barrage and the scenery gets more interesting. Lots of huts made from straw, house on stilts and nice farms. A bust up rail line collapsing into the swamp around it. Ramshackle towns. Read read read. Crap hindi music blaring through small speakers and worming its way into my conciousness. I'm reminded of a story of a traveller who'd had too much of it and asked the driver 'How much for ALL your tapes? I REALLY like them'. As soon as he had them they mysteriously slipped out of his hands and out the window ...

At some point I'm told to get off and guided to another bus. That bus isn't going where I want, but the next bus along is. A few more hours to the border, which is pretty simple and I'm back in india. It's then an hour to Siliguri, wait there for an hour or so, and get on the final bus to darjeeling.

The bus is actually wuite modern, catering for the middle class indian market who use it to escape from the heat of the plains. We zig zag up the hills, with the little rail line frequently crossing the road. They still have an old steam train running here, on narrow tracks - maybe 75cm seperation. I saw one of them - off the rails - half way up.

It's dark when I get to darjeeling and I'm a tad tired. Fortunately the shamrock hotel is lovely, and the fmaily there look after me and I veg in front of the tv watching England beat Kenya at cricket.

Darjeeling is lovely. Relaxed. Hilly. Easy life - I sometimes wonder if this is still india. I'm off to the mountaineering museum and to have a peek at some snow leapords tomorrow, and then Sikkim calls. Could be offline for a few weeks, but the internet may still be spreading before me.

bye for now

Hamish

12/06/99

Hello again folks

Before my final dispatch, here's a little poem I wrote about the whole thing. Do you think I'll make the next poet laureate?

Round here to go from A to B
Bus or train is the choice, usually
Often the bus is the only way
And you have to suffer the music they play
As the same song comes on one more time
You wish you could cut the speaker line
Or on to the roof you wish to climb
(But watch out for the power lines)
On fate and karma the driver depends
As he overtakes around blind bends
Oncoming traffic - why wait for that?
Just sound the horn and we won't splat
And the local bottoms are very tough stuff
To take twelve hours inside that bus

The trains are not so hard a test
You can (sometimes) lie down and rest
The windows open, the fans cool all
At stations you can go for a stroll
Or let the hawkers come to thee
Selling omelettes, coconuts and tea
Video games and plastic guns
(I suppose someone must find tham fun)
But first a ticket you must purchase
Easier said than to accomplish
First go from counters one to four
If you're lucky you'll get a form
Fill it in and join the queue
Watch others puch in front of you
To do all this - an hour or two
To be in a rush would never do

In the towns and on the streets
Dodge the cows and all their shits
All sorts of life roam on the roads
Camels and dogs, rats and jumbos
Beggars, hawkers, touts galore
Try to drag you through their door
"Excuse me sir, where from, your name?
Best price, of course, for you my friend"

Three wheeled smoke belchers zip around
(Though pedal power versions still abound)
More pollution for the 'air'
As you haggle about the fare
In Pakistan Suzukis rule
Hang from the back for a breeze to cool
In hilly spots there are only jeeps
Twelve inside and on top - heaps
In all these types of big tin can
There's always room for one more man

But in the hills peace can reign
Escape from the hot and dusty plains
Across the hills cool breezes blow
And for the locals life is slow
Up there is where I like to be
Watching the clouds from under a tree
The rhodedendrum flowers in bloom
And waterfalls in valleys boom

The main religion is that of the Hindu
With Sikhs, Muslims and Buddhists too
Hindu blue skinned gods above all
Smile from posters on every wall
Monkey man and elephant head
Are two who are widely worship'd
Named Hanuman and great Ganesh
They are called upon to grant your wish

The locals are always inquisitive
"Are you alone? Not married! Where live?"
The middle class, 'specially the teens
May take your photo while wearing jeans
The kids will always greet you with
"Hello, one pen, rupee, chocolate"
And whatever you do, anywhere
Thare are always those who stand and stare
Anything may be of interest
Especially white skin and women's breasts

And then there's cricket, the national sport
Whack the ball, but don't get caught
The locals play in any location
In streets and parks across the nation
In Varanasi they play on the ghats
With plastic balls and sticks for bats
Painted stumps or a propped up tray
Is all they need to play all day

I cannot make a sweeping statement
To cover the entire suncontinent
Ancient and modern, shy and bold
ugly concrete and shimmering gold
The world's largest democracy
With an immense bureaucracy

But I think that I may well be back
Though next time with a smaller pack


bye for now

Hamish

14/06/99

Hello folks

How are you all? Thanks for all the messages and stuff. I think I reply to over half of them, but I know I don't make'em all. Keep them coming anyway.

Anyway, I'm now in Calcutta, and tomorrow morning I fly to Bangkok (with Druk, the bhutanese airline - a country which started it's first tv station recently), and leave india behind entirely (for a few years anyway). Calcutta is actually quite OK. Much nicer than delhi certainly. Lots of big impressive imperial buildings around here, from a post office with a dome on top to the writer's building (for bureaucrats) dotted with various sculptures.

And then there's the Victoria memorial - really. This is a big classical pile of marble with sculptures and paintings of the royal family and important nobles of the time. There's also a really good display about the history and development of Calcutta, with stories of four englishmen in a house with 110 servants! There's a good planetarium nearby aswell.

Last time I wrote I was in Darjeeling. That was really good. i visited one of the tea plantaions there and we saw the factory for drying, rolling and grading the tea, the best grade being no.1 first flush orange pecoe blah de blah de blah or something similar. They brew it for all of five seconds, and it's a nice brew.

There is also a mountaineering institute there with the memorial to tenzing norgay (first up everest with Hillary) who came from darjeeling. They had a good museum about climbing in the himalaya and everest in particular, with various relics from some of the expeditions inc. the flags that tenzing flew from the top of everest. That was cool

Then I moved on to sikkim, a little state of india between nepal and bhutan, with a mainly nepalese population. It's nice and hilly (and cool in the summer) and there are lots of fairly impressive tibetan buddhist monasteries around and about, with very detailed paintings on the inner walls.

There are also lots of leeches around when it rains (and it rains quite a lot at the moment). They're surprisingly small and fast buggers. In densish undergrowth you can pick up 20 very quickly. Lovely eh? Salt works well though.

Then I went over to Assam and Meghalaya, through the towns of Guwahati and Shillong. I might have explored further, but the national parks are shut for the rainy season and there is a malaria outbreak off to the eastern end. Shillong was very wet - the wettest place on earth (in terms of rainfall) is about 50 km away. I was hoping for another nice peaceful place with nearby countryside like darjeeling, but it was rather built up and a bit full of ugly concrete. Ah well. There were some interesting faces though. Not the normal indian faces, but some of the tribal people who live nearby. Many of the faces almost look thai - very flat faces - and quite a few people had curly hair, which looked natural at least. A little bit of a change anyway.

And then I came to Calcutta, where the monsoon is starting get into gear. Mainly it hasn't been too bad, but there was one day when both ends of my street flooded, and there are open toilets on the street, so to get through you have to wade through the ankle deep water. I'm told later in the year it can be knee deep in that area. Fun. But I'm going to have to miss out on that one. Never mind.

Bye for now

Hamish

21/06/99

Hello folks

I'm now in bangkok (thailand) and heading for Loas this evening. bangkok is a little different to calcutta. There are no potholes in the road. No cars going the wrong way down one way streets. No cows on the roads. An efficient bus network. lots of air conditioning. There are bins around.

And quite a bit more expensive. Oh well. Loas is meant to be pretty cheap.

The (in)famous Khao San road wasn't quite what i expected it to be. It's only a few hundred metres long for a start - I had expected a huge long road of a km or two. It's pretty wide and has lots of expensive bars showing pirated videos (including the new star wars - the evil ones aren't all that evil really are they).

To be honest I haven't done all that much here. Watched a few movies, seen one or two pretty impressive temples, (one with a reclinging buddha that was about 40m long), been to the biggest shopping centre in asia (much prefer bazzars, it was just a big shopping mall) and killed a bit of time while waiting for a visa for loas.

I've also managed to meet about 4 seperate groups of people who I met earlier on my travels, which has been quite good. Bangkok is a bit of a transport hub ,so it's not so surprising really.

Anyway, I'll sign off now and maybe I'll find some internet stuff in loas. It does seem to get everywhere

bye for now

Hamish

07/08/99

Hello everyone

I've now re entered parts of the world with reasonable access to the internet - chiang mai in northern thailand - where I'm paying about 33p an hour to use the email. I've been in Lao for a month and a half, and it was great.

Lao has only recently been opened to tourists, and the tourist industry is developing fast to try and keep up with the influx. It's a very poor country by some measures, but it doesn't seem to let anyone drop too far - there are none of the really poor, wretched, starving people who you come across in india. The lao people I met were generally very friendly, and not too dis satisfied with their lot. They are also very laid back, the pace of life being rather near the stop level. I like that a lot.

They're quite into their drink. There is Beerlao which is a fairly good and cheap beer. There is lao lao, the local rice whisky which is deadly and costs about 50 pence for a litre. I was fed a lot by the locals. I almost liked it by the end. Almost. There is a lot of opium and marujiana grown - the grass is cheaper than the tobacco.

The country is dominated by rivers. There is only one really nice road in the country, and in many parts boat travel is the easiest way to get about. It's a very pleasant way to travel, especially compared to the decrepit bus/trucks which ply the bits of dirt road yet to be swallowed into the potholes. It's impossible to travel fast in Lao, and I often stayed more than one night at places which other folk passed through with just an overnight. One place was Muang Khua, and in the evening we had a great time. From my diary

"We went out on the town and on to a bridge over a side river. It was a small suspension bridge - no vehicles. there were lots of local youths hanging out, paying guitar and singing songs. I went out to the middle of the bridge and listened to the frogs on the banks, the creaking of the bridge, the songs from along the bridge, and the low murmur of various conversations.

"It was really beautiful there. As my eyes adjusted I could see a bit of light in the clouds, and could make out the horizon. The river was just about discernible through reflections in it, though the exact positions of the banks was hard to locate. There were lights on both banks (but no street lights). In front of me a square of light shone out from teh blackness, and no house was visible around it.

"The guitar tunes sounded familiar, as did the rythm of the words, but the words were lao, or maybe thai.

"A light drifted down near us. At first I thought it might be cigarette ash, but then I saw it was a firefly, with a bright green light coming from underneath it. It landed near us and we went fro a closer look, but couldn't see much detail."

The natural beauty in Lao is stupendous. There are two waterfalls near Luang Prabang which look as though they've been built to be the perfect waterfalls- almost too good to be natural. There are lots of caves all over, and stark limestone faces stirring the climber in me. In Vang Vieng I spent two hours sitting in a tractor inner tube floating down a river, just watching the banks and the occasional village drift by. The hills around Phogsali in the far north are stunning.

Down in the south I finished up by staying a week on one of the islands in the Mekong river near the cambodian border. There are hundreds (maybe thousands depending what you count) of island in this stretch, where the mekong stretches to a width of 14km. I stayed on Don Khon, which has the remnants of a railway used to transfer goods between boats above and below the huge powerful waterfalls there. It was extra chilled out, if that is possible.

But I'm out now. I'm going to a place called Pai tomorrow to do a course in thai cooking. I'll be in indonesia in a few weeks, and in Oz in october (maybe). Thanks again for all the messages, I've replied to quite a few of them, keep 'em coming

bye for now

Hamish

23/08/99

hello again folks

I've been in pai, in the north of thailand. I've spent half the last week leaving "the day after tomorrow" but I've finally escaped from the clutches of the rather chilled place that it is. I did one or two walks, saw some hot springs (and some locals boiling their eggs in them), tried a bit of thai cooking, read quite a bit, did a little thai massage course, tried a bit of yoga and ate quite a lot of banana pancakes. Life's a bitch.

It's about to get even worse as I head for Krabbi. There's meant to be some amazing limestone cliffs there, ready bolted and climbing gear for hire. and when I'm tired of that there's the beach and the sea to cool off in. I can just tell I'm going to hate it.

Thanks for all the correspondance, nice to hear from you all as always. Hope you're all enjoying whatever you're doing bye for now

Hamish

06/09/99

Hello folks

I'm now in penang in malayisa. I'm having lots of fun sitting here waiting for a new visa card. Should be here on wednesday and then I can get out of here and go to indonesia on thursday. In fact my moneybelt got stolen from under my pillow while I was in the shower. Doh. The passport and travellers cheques were pretty quick to replace. I'm rather bored of penang now. Any messages which helpe topass the time appreciated - what are you all up to.

Krabbi in thailand was pretty cool though, if rather expensive by local standards. I was on Rai Ley beach, which is a perfect paradisde beach which is maybe a little over developed now. It also has some excellent rock climbing on the beautiful limestone cliffs, and when you're all hot and sweaty at the end of the day you can go and take a dip in the sea to cool off.

(The next bit might not mean too much to non climbers)

The climbing is all bolted, mostly single pitch, grades 5 to 8a (french) with lots of 6a, 6b, 6c. When the sun is out you really need chalk. The climbing is generally pretty steep to overhanging, and some fun stalactites to climb on to, whether from ythe beach or halfway up the face. There are lots of beautiful jugs to grab on to when you are feeling rather insecure and wobbly. A lot of the climbs have holds just where you want them - you can't see them, but you reach out in hope and your fingers curl into a large pocket and you breathe a sigh of relief. Recommended for a ccmc meet

(OK, non climbers can come back)

So I'll be in indonesia in a few days, and in oz in a month or so. See some of you there bye for now

Hamish