Moroccan Snow Petanque

Moroccan Snow Petanque
Good evening sports fans, you join me for a fun packed program. It’s currently 8-14 with Mohammed and Yussef making a dramatic comeback versus Said and Richie. One more point and S&R are declared champions!
We are playing petanque or boule with 7 metal boule and 1 plastic one.
The pitch is a strip of dirt at the side of the road outside the hospital near the roundabout opposite the police station. A large crowd of school children have gathered to watch the bearded European in the Jedi outfit play with his partner who also happens to be the owner of the boule set and the owner of my bedroom for the night……oh! and were 2000m up a dead end mountain road and its snowing!

A few hours ago I was riding a camel back to civilization from the Sahara Desert in the shadow of sand dunes bigger than office blocks. However there is only so much organised fun a Richie can cope with and around lunchtime I instructed the package tour minibus driver to let me out at the next roundabout. Freedom! Within 2 minutes I had met a man called Said by the side of the road and it was off to his house in a public bus we went.

I’d only meant to come on a last minute holiday to Morocco for two weeks but it looks like it’s going to be two months minimum now.
No bicycle this time, my bum is still not fixed and I haven’t ridden it since September when I got back. I’m awaiting a hospital appointment to have a cortizone injection and hopefully that should get me back in the saddle. That said, having just spent 4 hours on the back of a camel I’m unable to sit down any more…ouchy.

I didn’t think I’d be mentioning my little Marrakech trip as I thought it would just be a quick bit of sunshine and souks and back to Blighty but the fact you can get a flight from the UK to Marrakech for £25!!!!!! Means plans changed quickly.

Having acquired a brown djallaba in the souk and also having grown a rather delightful beard not to mention the pair of matching chinos I picked up at the Brighton Oxfam shop for £3 I’m now floncing around Morocco looking like Obi Wan Kinobi.
Having spent a week in Marrakech it’s time to move and in full Jedi outfit I head to Imlil to the mountains and look pretty much like every local man up there, that is except the majority that are wearing climbing gear. After a few days trekking I ended up at a Berber village homestay. This was great but I hadn’t come equipped for mountain weather in winter and after the 3rd day of snow decided to get myself South for sun and sanddunes.
Getting out of Imlil is a trick in itself if you can’t fill an old Mercedes taxi with 6 people as the tourist is expected to pay for the empty seats. I wasn’t having any of that and I got on the bus which appeared as I tried to hitch hike my way out of town. The bus has to fill up before departing, this took about an hour, we got 20metres down the road , the call to prayer sounded and everyone got off and went to the mosque! 30 mins later and everyone has returned ,with shopping or haircuts or packages they didn’t have before. Half an hour later we reach our destination. I could have just walked it.

I’d already been on an organized trip to the Sahara a week ago but apart from the camels and the Kasbah it was pretty disappointing, not my image of the Sahara Desert at all, no sand dunes and no camp fire and you could still see the lights of the town from the tents we slept in. Don’t bother with Zagora go to Merzouga instead for what you think the Sahara is like. Wear some padded shorts for the camel ride though. I was in so much pain by the end of this morning’s sunrise trek, I did the last half side saddle to change my cheek rash position. .

The Vietnamese Midnight Mountain Top Trouser Swap Casino Scam

At midnight I got in a car with two Vietnamese women I had met on the internet. Sixty kilometers later I was swapping trousers with the taxi driver……meanwhile back in Indonesia.

Blimey! Where did the months go?? Bali, that’s where. After getting a ferry to Bali and arriving in the middle of the night during a storm which had caused a power cut I was unable to see any hotel signs as the lights were out. I sailed straight past the street with all the hotels on and as the rain poured down I took shelter under the roof of a shop front. The owners let me put my tent up on the porch and I headed towards Candidasa the next day. I found a bungalow on the beach and a visiting massage lady who charged £2.50 an hour and there I stayed. Three weeks later I moved 20 metres up the beach , lost the use of the pool but gained one extra meal a day and a cheaper rental. I also lost the services of Putu my massage lady. This turned out to be a “blessing in the sky” as the new massage lady took a shine to me and was happy for the company and supplied her services for free. Needless to say I stayed there a while and occasionally took the odd day trip on a moped I hired. Not a lot of cycling got done.

The world cup started and although I had a TV in my room the signal was so bad it was like watching Argentina ’78. England went out in typical pathetic style and the real business of getting my snorkel on could take place with a decent nights sleep.

It was only because my visa ran out that I decided to leave. The plan was to head back to the UK on July 30th flying out of KL, so I found an amazingly kind man on who let me store my bike at his house in Kuala Lumpur . I then spent my remaining weeks flitting between my old residence in Bukit Bintang in KL and Peter’s house between BB and the airport.

As the days passed my need to be back in the UK was not so urgent. A quick enquiry to the Vietnam Airlines office told me I could change my ticket for 100rm. So now I’m hanging around Malaysia for another 6 weeks.

Being a lone traveller and a single guy and enjoying the company of a lady now and then I was intrigued when a guest at the hotel told me about an app called Wechat. For those that don’t know it’s a bit like Whatsapp and Viber. For those that still have no idea what I’m going on about it’s a bit like sending a text message but with lots more possibilities and it’s free. The guest had told me how many girlfriends he had because of wechat and I was intrigued to see what he meant and also what his idea of a girlfriend was? The thing that makes wechat interesting is that it tells you who else is using it nearby. Set the search to “female” and up pops a list of females within a 1000 metres. Usually a photo is next to the name and also a little introduction of a few words. Fifty percent of these are in Malay or Chinese. A considerable amount are older ladies who will tell you they are married or given to Allah and they are just seeking friendship. The rest tends to be local prostitutes and shemales offering a good time. Then you have the guys who have put their status as female. Some are gay and some it seems are just desperate to make a friend and they know that other guys will be searching females. Very occasionally there is a woman who is not a prostitute , a man, a man that wants to be a woman or a woman that is taken by her husband or god. I wasn’t impressed and deleted the app straight away. A week later someone I got chatting to over lunch asked if I used wechat as they wanted to stay in touch so I reinstalled it. Curiosity got the better of me one night whilst drinking Japanese single malt into the daylight hours with a few expats who had just arrived from Tokyo. When I woke up the next day I had various replies from people I don’t remember contacting and realised how much booze I must have drunk. I went back to sleep and forgot about it.

A few days later around 3am a Vietnamese woman contacted me asking if I was awake. I was and we started chatting. Looking at the chat history I could see she was one of the people I contacted whilst getting Japanesey. One thing lead to another and I thought she was inviting me over for a nightcap, because of slight language difficulties I decided to cut to the chase as I was a bit tired. I asked her if she wanted me to come to her hotel? This received an embarrassed response and the grey area was now clearly white. We said good night and I went to sleep. Clearly bored and awake she just wanted someone to talk to . I thought no more of it. A couple of days passed and at 10pm “Che” calls me again. Asks me what I’m up to etc. I suggest we go out for dinner and she says she would love to but needs to call me back later. If there is one thing that I’ve learnt from my time in Indonesia and Malaysia it’s that people and especially women love to arrange to meet up and have absolutely no intention of doing it. Now that I’m used to this I take no notice what so ever when someone arranges some sort of meeting. So once Che had gone I forgot about our dinner plan. Thirty minutes later she contacts me again and explains that she is sorry but can’t make it. It barely registered with me and I went back to watching my movie. One hour later she’s back chatting. She tells me to call her on a number, she wants to go out. I phone her and she tells me her and her friend want to go to the casino in Genting Highlands.

This starts the alarm bells ringing as now money is involved. Random woman in cyberspace wants me to go with her to the casino sixty kilometres away, ummm. So I start to make some excuses. First off I point out that I don’t have any trousers which is actually true. I sent all of my clothes home or gave them away thinking I would need to make the weight limit for the plane. Che assures me this wont be a problem. Then I go to my de-facto line for testing anyone to see if they are just after cash. I explain my ATM card has been eaten by the machine and I only have a small amount of money until the new card arrives. Che says its not a problem, she just wants some company whilst her friend plays the tables. They will pay for the taxi and don’t worry about money. I’m still suspicious but what have I got to lose. So I get ready in my shorts, take 90rm (£18) with me and meet their taxi outside. The girls are in fine mood, a little drunk and me and Che cuddly up on the back seat whilst her friend is flirting with the Malaysian taxi driver. The casino is in Genting Highlands miles from KL and it takes about an hour to get there. As we go I get to see the huge gold Buddha at Batu caves which I have been meaning to visit and so I already consider the night a success. I joke with the girls that I’m half expecting to wake up in a bath of ice with some of my organs missing. We arrive at the casino after an hilarious drive up to the top of Genting Highlands which sees me and Che rolling about from one side of the car to the other as the driver navigates the hairpins.

Of course as expected as soon as I try to walk into the casino the security guards point to the sign reminding patrons of the dress code. Red shorts with penny farthings on them are not considered appropriate. The girls are unphazed and we ask if their are any shops still open. By now it’s past midnight and everything is shut. Then Che phones the taxi driver who is waiting for us to take us back when we have finished, she convinces him to swap trousers with me. We go back outside and me and the driver swap clothes in the car park! I’m quite a bit bigger than him, the trousers are a 32” which I definitely could have got into after some heavy months of cycling but the dim sum and stout and lack of exercise have seen a few lbs added. If I don’t do them up I can get in them and try to ignore the fact they nearly come up to my knees. We go back through the maze of 5 star hotel and posh shops back to the casino , the guards give us a smile and let us through.

Che’s friend goes straight to the electronic roulette tables and starts piling in cash. We go for a walk around and Che sits down to play blackjack. I go off for a walk in this huge casino and see what there is to see. I’m not too keen on spending any money as I still have a sneeky feeling I might be going home on my own at some point. I find some fruit machines that are 2c a play. I ask one of the security guys about something and he tells me I need my passport or some ID in order to cash out if I win anything. Apart from 90rm I have nothing on me except my phone. I deliberately left everything at home. I go and find Che and she’s lost all her money without even winning a hand. We go off to the cafeteria restaurant and I end up buying us food as the card terminal is broken and che wants to pay with plastic. So far so good, a fun random evening and I’ve still got most of my money left and all my vital organs. We go back to see how her friend is doing and I have a quick go on one of the roulette tables. I win so have another few plays and come away with 100rm more than what I came out with. I’m happy with that and we call the taxi and go to leave.

On the way back home more cuddles in the back until halfway down the hills and Che starts to feel sick, we have to pull over so she can get rid of the plastic bag. She goes to sleep on my shoulder and we arrive back at my hotel. She asks If she will see me again tomorrow and I say sure give us a call.

It’s now 5am and Khalid on reception wants to know where I’ve been. I give him a quick rundown on the story and he tells me to be careful.

Next day I send Che some messages to arrange to meet up for dinner but I’ve been blocked I don’t get any response. I try the phone number and again nothing. So what’s it all about??

Of course it could be a genuine situation and my company just wasn’t what they wanted for a second night. But after talking to a few people it seems the scam probably goes like this.

The casino pays for girls to bring in men to gamble at the casino. If the girls think the guys will spend big they will go to any lengths to get them to the casino. Sometimes over the course of a few days if they can’t get them to come or to spend big the first night. Was I being tried to see if I would come again once I had some money. I mean I told them up front I didn’t have any cash. Who knows.? A lucky escape or just plane jilted…who cares, it was a good night out. It’s nice to know the adventures are still happening even when I’m not on the bicycle.

Having had some adventurous fun I decided to move neighbourhoods. From a road full of prostitutes , she-males and massage parlours with happy endings to a road full of family run brothels, massage parlours operated by blind people and lots of Indians. Let the vegetarian feast begin :)





Fear and Loathing in KLIA2. Arse Cream no more

Goodbye Kate. Goodbye Sri Lanka. Hello Malaysia.

WOW! Cultureshock is not the word. After 5 months in Sri Lanka I had no idea what was coming when I touched down in Kuala Lumpur. Bright lights, skyscrapers, the 2nd tallest building in the world (i think),  mono rails, crazy kids up to their hairbands in technology, shopping malls the size of small towns and food,food,food….oh glorious food, different food, choice of food, more dishes than i can get through in one year and still not have the same thing twice. A week into Malaysian life I found myself walking round Bukit Bintang thinking  that my flight had gone through a time warp and taken me 20 years into the future. A drizzly steamy day walking under the monorail with skyscraper size advertising screens showing models on catwalks and music pumping into the street. People and faces from every part of Asia and the middle east, dimsum and sheesha pipes next to Lebanese food and Guinness happy hours with the twin towers of the Petronas building pointing up to god above, whilst the prostitutes stand amongst shoppers in the clothes emporiums. He males and shemales and ladies form all corners of the globe asking if you want a massage or more. Where am I , how did I get here? It took me 6 visits to the Lower Yat Plaza to get over the shock. Six storeys rammed full of technology and every shop front has three people trying to get your attention to try and buy a smart phone, tablet, camera, powerbank, laptop or selfie stick. The escalators only ever take you to more floors and escape is futile. A labyrinth of technology filled with pensioners on twitter, housewives on facebook and kids on we-chat. Powerbank, powerbank, one has enough power, must get more battery, too much screen time for inbuilt supply, shiny pink, hello kitty, doughnuts, jelly tea, bread rolls called Tuna Turner but no exit, never, just consume, stay ahead, latest model, wickedest colour , share, upload upload. This amongst a backdrop of haircuts and long thin legs in tiny shorts, every woman wears tiny shorts. Even the airline coming here had a uniform that was so super futuristic & sexy I couldn’t relax the whole flight. It’s a dream, it’s a dream but no. It’s Kuala Lumpur and I love it.

After spending three lazy weeks in Kuala Lumpur doing nothing but eating dimsum, smoking sheesha pipes with Pakistanis and Algerians and generally enjoying the delights of a true 24 hour city for the first time in 18 months it was time to move on. Not a happy football experience though. A rollercoaster 2nd half to the football season every last bit of nervous energy extracted from me and LFC finished second in the league. No need to come home and so what to do next. A quick trip to the airline office round the corner and pay the 100RM  (£17) to change my flight back to the UK to the end of June. Which was a nice surprise as the website had told me £75.

Liverpool didn’t win but what do I really care. I’ve got two more months on the road. I had cycled a bit in Malaysia but after chatting to a few people and my own experience I decide that I didn’t want to spend my last few months cycling on fast busy highways. A quick look at the map and the budget airlines hatched a plan. Rather than try to do too much too quick I decided to fly to Lombok in Indonesia, an Island east of Bali and try to cycle back to KL for my flight home.

Goodbye Malaysia, Hello Indonesia

Budget flights out of KL now fly out of Kualur Lumpur International Airport Terminal 2 now. KLIA2. When I flew it had been open 5 days. Never ever fly out of a new airport, nothing works, nothing is finished and everyone is stressed.  Before flying to Lombok I went and visited a friend in Medan for a few days. This involved me leaving my bike and luggage at KLIA getting myself to KLIA2 fly to Medan fly back to KLIA2 back to KLIA get bike and luggage get back to KLIA2 fly to Lombok. All this could have been avoided if the left luggage company had updated the website and told me that KLIA2 has got a left luggage as well.

The shuttle bus took an hour to arrive, the walk to the departure gate took 30 minutes and the only restaurant open at the the gate was a Mcdonalds that involved another 30 min queue with staff that looked like they would rather be anywhere else in the world except serving customers. This is all set amongst every high end shop you can imagine, I’m sure there are more shops in KLIA2 than there are in Westfield. Selling everything from a £20,000 diamond tiara to an 80″ plasma or some garden furniture but no f**king food.

On returning things didn’t get any better. I discovered that there was a train that is not only more frequent, quicker and cuts down the walk by half but will also take my bicycle. I discovered this because I asked three different people working at the train counter on my way back to KLIA. I saw a sign on one of the counters saying no surfboards. Phew. Lucky me. Of course when I arrive back at the train terminal to take my bike back to KLIA2 a new sign had appeared with a bicycle crossed out!!! And they wouldn’t let me take the bike on the train. I had a little bit of a tantrum demanded a ticket which they refused to sell me and jumped the gate when the cleaner came through the other way and refused to budge. The train was empty and I had a flight to catch. If you want to get something done in this situation you have to take a chance so I started shouting and said call security if you have a problem. The manager came down, realised I was not a happy or more importantly nice bunny and allowed me to put the bike in the goods compartment providing I buy a ticket.

Arriving at KLIA2 I pack up my bike in shrink wrap and trolley it to the check in. I ask if the bike is OK and the check in woman says yes. As usual it doesn’t fit through the x-ray machine and so I spend another hour trolleying the bike to the cargo bay of the airport and back to the same place where I started when they say it’s not their problem. In the end I’m told to leave the bike on the trolley and they will deal with it. (This is what should have happened at the start)

I arrive in Lombok at 8pm the flight was delayed by nearly 2 hours but the bike doesn’t appear. Everyone else has collected their luggage and I’m the only one left. Various people get involved and no one can tell me what’s happening. I’m all done on getting upset. I can’t go anywhere without my bike and I’ve got no plan so I just sit on the conveyor belt. Every time I’m asked if I can move or go to customs to check my bags in I refuse. I say I’m not budging until you tell me where my bike is. This goes on for an hour or so. Various people come and go. I’m very calm and say I’m happy to go to prison or you take me to a hotel. Either way I’ll have somewhere to sleep. Another hour goes by in which I’m given dinner on the conveyor belt and it is finally confirmed my bike is still in KL but will be arriving on the first flight tomorrow. I accept this but still refuse to move. After a few phone calls back and forth to various bosses an offer is made to me to take me to a guest house (Losman). This involves the manager taking me on his moped and two other staff carrying my luggage on two other mopeds. They pay.

The next day I receive a phone call from the incredibly helpful Suparman (name of manager) to say my bike has landed and he will have it delivered to the guest house. He tells me he’s never met someone like me and that I’ve taught him a valuable lesson. He says he’s very grateful for the experience.

What I think he meant by that was that he had never met a more stubborn, obstinate little bastard who was so laid back about it all.

Although not his fault in any way he was a true gentleman the whole time.  Reunited with my Nomad I was a happy bunny again and got back on the road. Lombok is not very big so I just decided to do a clockwork loop of the Island and see what happened. Usual stuff, camping on the beach at a fishing village of ten that was only accessible by a 2km muddy puddle between two paddy fields. I knew it would have good vibes at the end and it did. The next day the street was full of kids on mopeds with spray-canned shirts. Last day of school…ever and everyone was out celebrating. I didn’t make it far that day as I saw the perfect place to stop. A restaurant with garden down to the beach with a huge gazebo to hide away from the sun. The Garmin was now showing 43 degrees and my body was feeling it too. Although never that long some of hills were getting in to 20% plus gradients and I actually had to stand up to get up some of them. I very rarely stand up on my bike. I stopped and ordered some food. Had a swim and relaxed under the gazebo. I asked the two friendly ladies who ran the place if it was OK to sleep there for the night. No problem at all they said. With a showerin the toilet block  it was my perfect place. In the evening the owner and his wife came down and invited me to stay at their house. The two other women Rus and Remy where sisters of Joh and As was the husband. I left the bike with girls and they locked up for the night. I hopped on the back of As’s scooter and off we went up into the Lombok hills to their house. I love my bicycle but I have a lot of good memories of just being sat on the back of a moped somewhere tropical just lolling along not a care in the world looking up at the perfect starry night time sky as the breeze cools you. Admittedly my eyes aren’t normally able to focus very well on those nights ;)

When we arrived we were greeted by As and Joh’s seven kids. Before long Dinda their eight year old girl was my new best mate with the most incredible piercing eyes and I knew she was full of charm and full of trouble in equal doses.

Joh came home with Remy and Rus each on their own scooters and had brought supplies of Tarang Bulan with them. A crumpety cakey spongey thing about 8″ in diameter and 2″ thick cut into slices and topped with chocolate and cheese. Oh my god its so good. I don’t think the NHS will be encouraging it, health wise it’s probably worse than a deep fried Mars bar but it tasted amazing. Every time I find a stall selling it I have to get one.

Morning and As took me back to the beach and fed me till I burst then I tried to get to Oble Oble. Someone had said it was the way to go. As wasn’t too keen on me going as he said it was a dangerous place and It might have terrorists. I think he was as much worried about my welfare as he was setting me up with Remy or Rus who both had 3 or 4 kids and a husband that had disappeared, which incidentally they both seemed quite happy about. I resisted the temptation of a ready made family in Lombok, which is quite hard, the people are so friendly here and you get an equal amount of tactile love from both the men and the women. But ventured on into the sun.

I made it to Oble Oble after more extreme hills, not surprising as I was cycling around the edge of Mt Rinjani an active volcano and Indonesias 2nd uppiest hill. I found the beach I’d been told about and asked the owner of a small wooden hut selling food if I could camp out back between the veggy field and the sand.

An old man was praying at the time , kneeling on his mat on the platform of his Gazebo. The rather stern lady owner said it was ok though and so I set up between the trees and watched the man weave palm trees to make new sides for the hut as the woman took her turn to pray to allah. Plenty of the women I’ve seen wear the veil but mainly casual clothes to go with it, plenty don’t wear any thing that would make them stand out as muslim. It seems to be a fairly libreal country from that point of view. The most liberal dressing place I’ve been to for a majority muslim country. I bought a water melon off stern lady and gave half of it back to her in the morning as I couldn’t finish it. In return she whipped out a machete on a 10ft long pole and craftily (good skill, not cunningly) nipped off some fruit from the tree growing above her hut. I never did extract the name from her, not sure what to make of them but I was grateful all the same. I was more grateful however for the coffee I bought from her. A few spoonfuls in a cup and mixed with sugar , no fancy dan apparatus here but by god was it good. All the coffee I had so far has been good here but definitely on the strong side. This had flavour that just didn’t knock your socks off. The only time I’ve had coffee like it was in Turkey at Bora’s house. That was coffee from the west of Turkey that took in the flavours of the Cyprus trees. Anyway, its probably the best damned coffee I’ve ever had. A few more cups and I was fit for the road and another 40  degrees plus day climbing steep hills.

About 3pm I came across some guest houses that were located for the ferry crossing over to a small Island (gili). Looking back the first one I rejected was fantastic value on the beach but I was trying to stay cheap. The cheapest one I got shown was awful so another night in the tent it was only before I knew it it was dark. No camping spots were making themselves known to me and the custom of burning ones rubbish in the evening gave a three pronged attack to my eyesight. I can’t see anything wearing glasses at night because of the glare, I can’t see if I haven’t got them on and the smoke and dark just make it seem like you are in a pea souper. Seeing car lights disappearing into the distance I decide to take the first side road I could find which happeend to be a farm track. I heard some voices and parked the bike. Shouted hello and it went quiet, I shouted hello again and walked in through the gate. Half a dozen men were just cleaning down from the days work and a woman lurked in the background. No one spoke English so I got the camera out and showed them a picture of my tent on Oble Oble beach and pointed to their field. Immediate recognition of the problem and I was shuffled off in the direction of a gazebo. Perfect.

That evening after having a wash with more frogs than I’ve ever had a wash with the men sat smoking strong stinky Indonesian cigarettes and I told a few stories to an English speaking man who had been drafted in. Along with the village chief apparently.

More strong coffee and photos in the morning and off onto the busy main road to Martaram the biggest town on the Island. I had gone past the half way point on the island circuit  and it was mainly down hill. Stopping for food I discovered Bakso. Noodles and chicken or beef dumplings in a tasty vegetable broth. The key is to cover the dumplings in the super rich sticky onion ketchup. This gives the dumplings more flavour but also turns the broth into a rich soup at the end ready for draining from the bowl when you’ve finished the big bits. I learnt this from watching a Japanese film one night called Tampopo…watch it.

In Sri Lanka the horn on my bike made people think I was an Ice cream man. Here its the sound of the Bakso man. He goes around on his moped with his food on the back ready to dish up a tasty snack to anyone who stops him. And so it was that shouting  “Bakso” as I beep my horn is my new catch phrase, and the shouts of “arse cream” are no more.

Too Much Lanka

I have a lot to say about my last spell in Lanka but I don’t have the energy to write it. Too much negativity with bad experiences that I need to let fade away and write about after time to reflect.

On the plus side Sri Lanka won the T20 cricket world cup and the fireworks went crazy, but then if you live in an area prone to roaming elephants the fireworks go off every night to keep them away, so no different really. I’d love to say I watched it and drunk in the full flavour of what it’s like to be in a country when they win something like this but Liverpool were playing at the same time and you have to prioritise things sometimes yeah. LFC won again. Which of course is all due to me wearing my lucky Indian LFC boxer shorts and the fact that I stopped shaving and cutting my hair. This is a FACT and I’ll be writing to Norris Mcwhirter to tell him.

That was about a month ago in Anhadupura. Since then Kate & I have traveled back to the West coast, enjoyed a few luxury days in an eco lodge in Kalpitya before heading back to the relative civilization of Colombo. 

One day I’ll update this…but not today :)

Reincarnated as a Cow

I’m sat on the rather nice balcony of my hotel sipping a cup of ginger tea out of a china dinner service and feeling a bit like Noel Coward or Graham Greene (only without the talent) as I tap away at my typewriter. I’m in Kandy at the moment over looking the lush green trees to the East of the lake. Yep, still in Sri Lanka. Got a rotten cold hence the ginger tea but am incredibly excited because at 13:30 GMT / 7pm Sri Lanka time. Liverpool will playing Man Utd at Old Trafford and I have a TV to watch it on. I won’t bore you with any more football talk but this is the most exciting season in 20 years for a Liverpool fan so excuse me whilst I indulge myself. My friend Kate left a couple of days ago to cycle over to the East of the Island to visit a friend. I had planned to stay cycling in the hill country but I caught her cold and that was all the excuse I needed to stay put until Monday morning and watch the game on Sunday. It’s not only the biggest game in English football but also Medin Full Moon Poya Day. This means you can’t buy alcohol, unless you know where to go ;) and the sound of drums and barking dogs are drifting with equal volume across the valley.

I’m tired as I had a terrible nights sleep, partly bought on by my own idiocy. It’s taken me 40 years to realise I’m incredibly sensitive to caffeine and so I wont drink tea or coffee after lunchtime. I’m pretty disciplined at this now, I might sneak a coke in before 3pm if I’m cycling but otherwise that’s my lot. Which is all a bit pointless as last night at around 8pm I decided that I needed to snaffle a whole cashew nut chocolate bar. If I live to a ripe old age I’d like to think that the day before I die will be the one day I manage to live a perfect one. Just one and I’ll die happy. The choccy treat on it’s own is not usually the problem though. Keeping one eye on Chelsea’s match instead of reading and going to sleep didn’t help, not to mention the goings on with Ukraine and the missing Malaysian plane. I can’t blame the scurge of Asia (the tiny bed) as my bed is huge and I’ve got lovely soft Egyptian cotton sheets. But the dogs howling, although not loud have been constant with the full moon approaching but the enemy number one to me getting enough beauty sleep to become Kandy’s next top model was a gecko. I had something similar happen to me in Pakistan, I was ill then as well. At first you dismiss the odd noise and after a while just decide it’s outside and it will shut up and go away. When this doesn’t happen your mind plays tricks along with your ears and the sound (much like a circular sander buffing an avocado for 3 seconds then running out of power) starts to come from all corners of the room. I eventually go and look in the bathroom and see a tiny lizard scurry behind the mirror. From it’s hiding place it starts buffing avocados at an immense volume. I can’t get at it to chase it out and tapping the mirror just upsets ME because I see how tired I look, it’s now 2am. I admit defeat and clog up the bottom of the bathroom door with tissue paper and go back to bed with a streaming nose and aching ears from having my silicone ear plugs rammed in too far. The joys of travel in the tropics in a comfortable hotel.

I’ve spent the last 5 weeks travelling with Kate who flew over from India and bought a bicycle in Colombo and then had it freighted down on a train to Galle. After a fantastic couple of weeks in Unawatuna for Mark & Hayleys wedding we just bummed around on the beach and both remarked how nice it was to do the touristy thing and have beers delivered to our deck chairs whilst dipping in and out of the sea and getting sunburnt on our whiter bits. Since then we’ve cycled up to Kandy. We’ve camped in a Buddhist temple, on the beach, we’ve been caught out by the dark in the hill country a few times. Once we had to sneak into a tea plantation and leave our bikes at the top of a steep hill and carry all our gear down to find a flat piece of land to put the tent on. Another time the mist and darkness in the tea plantations beat us again and we took refuge in a tiny Pentecostal Christian Church. We’ve stayed in some hilarious guest houses. Some just plain grubby, but cheap so fair enough. At one place Liverpool were playing that night but the hotel didn’t have satellite TV so we went next door to a house who had a dish and loitered around for a bit until someone came out. I explained the predicament and he invited us in to watch in his house. This was of course the plan, but I had not bargained that he wouldn’t have the right channel. It was half way through the first half before he managed to subscribe to it and get it working after many phone calls with his daughter down the road. We took some food and beer over not knowing if they drunk, but he was more than pleased with the arrangement. I’m not sure if his two kids were though, they were banished to the kitchen to do their homework. Liverpool won, so all in all a good night.

We’ve been to a couple of guest houses where we have stayed for a couple of days and seen the comings and goings of the “pay by the hour” guests.

It’s been challenging for me to cycle with someone else. I’m so used to doing things my own way, it’s hard to get out of that sometimes but it’s been interesting to see someone else point of view. It’s also been an eye opener to see what it’s like for a female. I’m already very aware of how blessed I am to come from where I do and how that enables me to travel, but being a guy just makes all that even more possible for so many reasons. I can just rock up to any old situation and usually get out of it the other side but being female just adds a whole heap of stuff to think about. Toilets, dress how friendly should you be? It’s a minefield. Yet more reasons to make the absolute most out of my chance to do things.

Of course the upside of travelling with someone else is the companionship, the laughter, the sharing costs of hotels! But I think most noticeable of all is to share the ridonkulous times. Those moments when only you are getting how fucked up the whole shebang is. The outrageously poor service, the crap boring food, the nonsensical laws, the non existent choice of expression of being an individual. It’s nice to know someone else sees what I see. My usual cry of “Ice Cream” after I honk my hooter has now been replaced with “Arse cream” no one notices except Kate :)

I’m still loving Lanka, still loving the friendly smiles and the amazing scenery and wildlife but I AM SO BORED with the food. Rice n Curry and Roti and Kotthu. That is pretty much all you will find anywhere outside of a big tourist town. The sight of a Cargills Food City or Keelles Supermarket makes my heart dance and when KFC and Pizza Hut is a night of fine dining you know the culinary taste buds are missing home. No! , not missing home. Missing choice. I think I can cope if there are at least seven dishes, then you can have a different one every day of the week. This was the case in Iran and although I started to tire a little towards the end I still enjoyed what was on offer. The Sri Lankan rice n curry is really nice, don’t get me wrong but after a few months it gets a bit drab. The rice is quite often pretty poor which doesn’t help. Needless to say I have not eaten a single Sri Lankan dish since I’ve been in Kandy. We’ve explored nearly every restaurant here and every one has been awful. It’s as if they have seen the dish on TV or in a restaurant and then tried to recreate it. There is absolutely no understanding of how much ingredient to put in. A cashew nut, pomegranate salad will have 2 nuts and 4 pomegranate seeds. Kate has been hardest hit as she is a vegetarian. We found a place that as usual had all the trimmings, nice décor, interesting menu, smart staff. The monstrosity that was the risotto that Kate ordered which was made with pudding rice was just one example. The one place that was actually any good in Kandy was surprise surprise run by an English guy with his Chinese wife being in charge of the real Chinese food. A two week holiday in the sun in Sri Lanka is fine but 5 months will seriously test your taste buds. My panniers are now loaded up with pasta, sauces, happy cow cheese, flatbreads, oatmeal and Marmite. The supermarket had peanut butter but at over £4 for a small pot I just couldn’t warrant it. It’s been so funny to see how I’ve headed for the Western food outlets as soon as I hit a town.

What a Tourist!

Just before we headed into the mountains we ate at a “Thai” restaurant. It did no food and was just a “Chinese” joint which doesn’t really do any Chinese either except for fried rice. These places are bring your own booze dens where men gather to get drunk with grog they’ve bought from the usually adjoining wine shop, which brings me on to a bar I visited. We had found a nice guest house in the middle of a tea plantation that was perched up on a hill. The driveway to this place was probably the steepest road I have ever cycled down. As luck would have it a tuktuk arrived at the same time and carried all our bags UP. Just pushing the empty bike was hard enough. Definitely over 30% grade. I asked the owner if they had beer, he pointed to a light off in the distance and told me it was a bar. I wondered off down the unlit road with my headtorch on, this was a Saturday night. The bar was in full swing and I got a bit of a cheer as I entered. A small shed with a wire mesh window and small serving hatch was serving booze to the mainly old Tamil clientèle. They had no regular strength beer, only extra strong 8.8% but most people were drinking Toddy. This was ordered at the bar with a plastic bowl. The old men gave the plastic bowl to the barman, he would knock the top off of a bottle of Toddy and swirl it around as he poured the contents into the bowl. 80 rupees a bottle for a 600ml bowl of coconut wobbly juice. I have no idea why they drunk out of bowls perhaps its cheaper than a glass. They probably don’t drink it out of the bottle because that way they can mix up the sediment from the bottom.

Whilst it might sound like I’m being negative Sri Lanka is still impressing me every day.

We cycled to Sri Pada, the holiest mountain in Sri Lanka, also known as Adams Peak. The journey into the hill country was breathtaking both visually and physically. Regular 20% stretches of badly repaired road are hard work with a loaded bike but well worth the effort. When we arrived in Delhousie the last village before the mountain it was peak pilgrimage time. The 5800 steps up to the top of the 2200m peak should take a fit person about 2-3 hours to get up. So at the longest estimation with a break at the top we should have been done in about 6. We left at 2am and joined the throngs. It had the feel of being at an outdoor rave, music blaring, the smell of tiger balm and campher. Stalls selling all kinds of crap and lots of people. The great thing with this being a pilgrimage sight is that there are steps all the way up and it is lit at night. The goal was to leave around 2am and hit the top for sunrise. We hadn’t bargained for the other ten thousand people doing the same thing. The full journey took us 12 hours! We did see the sun come up but from about halfway up. The way down was hilarious. My legs can cycle but they are not used to climbing hills. Going up was ok but as ever its the coming down that kills you. Kate pretty much carried me for the last few kms. My legs were totally screwed for 3 days after. I couldn’t do a thing. I must have been reincarnated as a cow as I just couldn’t get down stairs unaided. When we left to cycle to Worlds End , (a dramatic view off the edge of a steep cliff) my legs gave up after half a day. We found a guest house and then took a tuktuk for the final 20km. The road up to Horton Plains National Park where Worlds End is located was the steepest we had seen and there was absolutely no way my stiff legs would have got up that in the next few days. With the excitement of getting there we hadn’t realised you had to pay and we hadn’t bought any money with us except a bit of change for a snack. As luck would have it a Sri Lankan Doctor and his wife got talking to us and offered to pay for our tickets. Cheers Chevy :)

With no public transport to this place we had to make our way back home and after asking around a bit we jumped on Catholic boy’s school bus. Out on a school trip from Ratnupura. A fantastic time as a few of the boys had drums and banged out tunes that the whole bus sang along with. We laughed at what would have happened in the UK. No chance of this happening if two Sri Lankan tourists got stuck somewhere. CIB, Police checks, health and safety, does the list ever end. When we got back to our funny little guest house that resembled a mini youth hostel in the middle of huge allotments we knocked up a fantastic dinner from all the local “British” veg they were growing (supposedly organic) leeks and carrots and potashes and beans all cooked in New Zealand butter.. Amazing. To just taste each individual veggy is such a treat.

The hill country has been a lovely change, I’m loving the cooler weather and the scenery and I’m feeling fit enough to take on the hills. The A5 from Nuwara Eliya to Kandy has probably been the best road I’ve cycled on….ever. 60Kms, 1000 meters of descent. Good tarmac roads. Fantastic scenery, sweeping curves and tight hairpins and not too much traffic. What more can a touring cyclist want. As you descend whizzing past tuktuks and buzzing tea plantation workers as they come up the hill with massive bags of freshly picked tealeaves that are suspended from special caps to take the weight of the bag. I was having so much fun down this bit of road that not even a snapped chain, and five minutes later, a front wheel puncture could stop me smiling.


If you go here I might have got round to putting up a video or two of the descent.

Arugam Bye Bye

A week ago I sidled down the Sri Lankan East Coast and arrived in Arugam Bay. A crashed out surf spot discovered by some Aussies in the 60’s. Although the idea of running into loads of Western tourists usually makes me avoid somewhere if I have the choice there is usually a different selection of food available and after a diet that hasn’t offered more than “rice n curry” and roti for the past few weeks I was looking forward to having something new.

Arriving in the town on a Friday afternoon in off season meant the Muslim population were all downt’ mosque. A few stragglers were still about though hoping to hook a lost tourist to take a room. As luck would have it they had the only restaurant in town that was not only open but also had some interesting food, along with interesting prices. I gave into my taste-buds and actually got a decent meal both in taste and size (chunky chips…ummm). I still couldn’t bring myself to stay here though, my anti-tourist head was definitely on today so I kept going and headed straight through. Which as anyone will tell you leads nowhere. Well it leads to Kumala National Park, which turned out to be a no-no for bicycles but was a dead end anyway due to the 40 metre river on its border. This didn’t stop an Irishman a few years ago though who found a route down the back of the park to avoid the guards and then built himself a raft to get across the water. When I found this out I thought of returning to try it myself but having arranged to meet my friend Kate in Galle around my birthday in a few weeks time and having also agreed to play some tunes for a friends wedding on the same day, I thought it would be a bit rude to not turn up having mangled myself around a palm tree or been dashed against the rocks only to have my organs pecked out by all manner of fancy coloured birds and lizards. I’ll save those shenanigans until I’m older and wiser , 42.

The 60km round trip back to Arugam Bay was definitely worth while though. I’ve realised that dead ends are the best place to see wildlife as they get disturbed the least and tend not to worry about the roads so much, compared to when there is through traffic, which not only brings more vehicles but more houses and thus people. En-route to Kumala I camped on a dyke on a reservoir having been told I will see elephant come down to drink around 6 o’clock. So at 4.30pm I set up my tent to make sure I didn’t miss them. As I cycled around the edge of the water I saw something ahead of me move and just caught the tail of a crocodile slipping down into the water. I went past where it had been sunbathing and camped about 5 metres away. This happened 10 minutes after having a silver grey snake slither past me on the road. About the diameter of my arm and three metres long. Easily the longest snake I’ve ever seen outside of the Mighty Boosh. As I waited for the evening show a farmer arrived with his herd of white cows and confirmed the timing of the elephants and also told me about the croc that had been here earlier and that it would come back to sleep here at 6pm!!! I decided the crocodile would be scared off by my tent so decided to risk it. Everyone had said they wouldn’t kill you and the ones I’d seen so far didn’t look like the sort Steve Irwin would be wrestling.

The evening came and went and when I awoke, no elephants and no crocodile. I slipped off to the NP and got given pongal (mashed up rice and coconut and sometimes cashew, eaten at poya/full moon) by the guards as a kind of apology for not letting me in on the bike and came back to the reservoir again knowing I had a nice easy place to stay. As the reservoir came into view from the road I already had my croc-vision on as I had seen at least three 4ft crocs basking in the sun with their mouths open on the banks of the irrigation ditches in the paddy fields.

As I drew level with the spot where I had camped I could see from about 50 metres away a mahoosive crocodillian stretched out where I had been sleeping, I couldn’t believe my eyes, it was well over 2 meters long. I took a picture and then zoomed in on the photo, for a moment I felt quite weak. Twas ginourmous and very scary. I crept round onto the mud track and up to the dyke. I put my bike against a tree and tried to creep up to take a closer photo, even though I was in full view. I got a little bit closer then when I had disturbed it last time but the croc-senses are always on, even when having a doze in the sun with it’s gob open. After seeing this I decided to camp somewhere else. I clambered up on to a large rock with a flat top and dragged up my tent and anything I needed and left the bike at the bottom hopefully hidden from anyone else. Another evening of waiting for elephants but yet again rejection :( In the morning as I sat eating my breakfast I thought a stick in the distance looked like a cobra. Ever since seeing the big snake I’ve been convinced every stick I see is a venomous serpent, they always turn out to be sticks though. As I was looking at the stick laughing at this to myself, the stick disappeared behind a rock!


Elephantless I headed on back to A-Bay in search of more food and the way to the main road to head inland. Another nice expensive but tasty meal left me feeling fat and refreshed and I decided to check out some rooms. I found a nice place with garden down onto the beach and I think the only budget option in town with hot water. 1000 rupees a night. £4.71 in old money. I hadn’t had a good wash for a few weeks and for some reason I’m convinced hot water does a better job. The idea was to wash me, wash my clothes watch the football and head on the next day. The weather was glorious the surf was inviting and the German beer on special offer. It seemed the perfect place to catch up on some bits that needed doing and one week later I’m still here. It’s now 7am I’ve watched the sun come up, walked down the beach to my favourite fisherman’s tea-shop who not only make the best tea but charge the least money. Quite often the way with things I’ve found. Although I’ve not been to the other tourist beach spots in SL the prices the places are charging here are staggering compared to the rest of the Island. Not by UK standards of course but sometimes equal. A good view, swish décor and incredible food can always be a decent reason for paying more but when you get none of this, you won’t be getting my money.


One of the things I’ve been doing in my week here is to finally find a way of displaying my route properly. It’s taken a long time to find a way of doing this and been very tedious to tie all the bits of data together but it’s 90% finished now. If you want to go and inspect everywhere I’ve been down to the minutest detail then click here or go to the “route” tab on the website and click on “big map”. If you have a slow internet connection it might take a little while to load.

You can probably work out where I’ve stopped for a pee, taken a wrong turn or gone somewhere I shouldn’t. The blue lines are my cycling routes , light grey/green is air travel, yellow is boat but you could have probably worked that out for yourself, purple-ish is motorbike. The reason there are gaps is because I haven’t filled in road travel which will be red. I’ll wait for another spot like Arugam Bay before I tackle that.

I’ve also given all of my luggage a clean for the first time since I left home. This involves filling the bags up with soapy water its also a great way to check for leaks. When emptying my bags I found two colonies of ants and a gecko half the size of my finger as well as a centipedey/scorpion looking thing the length of my hand. Unfortunately they have had a one-way trip to Arugam Bay and will have to hitch back home. I’ve also been thinking of ways I can transport a surfboard above my head on my bicycle, this is still at the “German beer” stage though.


And on a final note. The adjudicators on the $10,000 phone bill have come to their conclusion and found that the phone company are at fault and have ordered them to pay back my money and costs.

A big thanks to Mum,Maddy and Sarah-Jane for helping me to sort all that out from far flung places. It’s been stressful having that hang over me for the last 9 months but it’s finally drawing to a close. Now I’ve just got to wait for the actual money!!!


One of my fave things about Sri Lanka is the fact that children,women and even the most rugged men always say “ByeBye” in such a nice way.




PS. If you want to say hello or shout abuse or send me interesting photos of amphibians wearing a hat, you can! Contact me via the “say hi” page or at:

batman to robben @

its all one word, take out the spaces.