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Adventures of Auroraman and Cupcake Woman

The Resurrection of AuroRaman

Cambodia Posted on Mon, April 04, 2011 03:07:18

‘I’m not gay but I had to kiss you!’ – French dude, Bodhi Villa, Cambodia

Bodhi Villa is a renowned hostel, built on the Kampong Bei River’s edge in Kampot, owned by an Australian dude, Hugh. It has been described as, ‘The Hotel California of Cambodia’. Upon entering the grounds of the hostel, you walk through a trodden path surrounded by trees and fairy lights. The first thing you see as you walk up the steps,and go through the main doorway is the bar/reception area (the most important area of any self-respecting backpacker paradise).

The main reception area is built entirely from wood, with a couch seating area nearest the bar, a small stage with a sweet little pointed roof and then a large pontoon deck with tables, lights and benches, overlooking the river. We didn’t venture into the sleeping areas, but I’m reliably informed that they are decent, with a couple of rooms that have an open wall looking straight out over the water. In short, the place exudes a coolness without the lah-dee-dah upper-middle class snarf-snarf brigade that some well-known ‘traveller’ abodes have frequenting their properties.

As it was a Friday night, there would be live acoustic sets from a few of the regulars in the area and from Hugh himself. Friday nights at the Bodhi are infamous for their debauched atmosphere. A troupe of misfits, lost souls and wandering Indigo Children basking in the glow of fairy lights, moonshine and river reflections. Drinks at ridiculously low prices, free shots at any given moment and the smell of a particular type of herb clouding the air around us.

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We took our places at a table and were joined by two Irish girls, who we instantly got chatting to and sharing stories of our travels so far. The chat may have been short-lived had I revealed that something rather large, eight-legged and hairy was scuttling across the wooden railing we were leaning against and straight over my hand before disappearing into the night. I’m still not sure if I’ve ever told Stannie about that. Hugh kicked off the evening proceedings with a selection of covers and original material, to a very receptive crowd. He was followed by a group of local musicians who played some very sleek and bluesy Cambodian music, followed by some Western hits of eras gone by.

I could feel myself itching to get onstage at this point. It had been a while. I wanted to play my music to a new audience of vastly different cultures, skin colours and nationalities. We had booked our tuk-tuk for a certain time, and that time was running out. I went over to Hugh and asked if I could get on. Not a problem. I hobbled over to the stage and sat down with the guitar handed to me.

‘Hey, my name’s Ram and I’m from London.’

Cue people from various parts of our planet shouting out the inevitable , ‘aawwight geeeezer’, ‘apples n’ pears’, ‘OI OI!’ etc etc. Mugs. I went straight into my first song. Within the first couple of bars I got that addictive feeling of euphoria from knowing I was playing to an audience who were on my side. I finished the first song, people cheered, shouted, asked for more. I played a second, random couples started dancing in front of me, more cheering and whooping. I thanked the crowd. Hugh started banging on a big pan with a stick. One more, play one more! Oh go on then…

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Once I’d finished, I hobbled to my feet and received more adulation, love and appreciation in a 30-second period (very important for someone with self-esteem issues and a craving for the spotlight) from this eclectic mix of misfits and nitwits than I have in the last few years playing the UK toilet circuit. And not ONE person told me I was ‘good enough to appear on X Factor’. Screw you British music ‘scene’. Screw you. A rather handsome French dude, who had been receiving particular attention from the ladies all night, came up to me and asked if he could kiss me. I didn’t really have a chance to reply before he moved in and somehow managed to miss my face and plant a kiss on my neck. ‘I’m not gay, but I had to kiss you!’

I’d like to say we decided to leave in true God of Rock fashion and depart as soon as I finished onstage, like a young, Indian Axl Rose. The reality is, it would’ve cost us a whole extra dollar to stay behind as our tuk-tuk was waiting outside…

As we hastily made our exit before more attractive European men could molest me, one of the Irish girls rushed outside as we were getting into the tuk-tuk. ‘I can’t believe I sat next to you all night and you didn’t even mention you could do THAT!’ Another kiss, this time managing to catch my left cheek. That extra dollar for staying longer was sounding like a good investment. But like a young, Welsh/Lithuanian/Scottish/English/Irish and Scouse Yoko Ono, I was ordered into the tuk-tuk.

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However, the seeds had been sown once again. The Resurrection of AuroRaman had begun!

S+R xxx

www.bodhivilla.com



Rabbit. Rabbit. Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit

Cambodia Posted on Sun, March 27, 2011 11:15:57

‘That looks more like a turtle than a rabbit’ – Cupcake Woman, boat ride to Rabbit Island, Cambodia

We said our goodbyes to Jasmine Valley, and made the short trip off the coast of Kep to Rabbit Island. We’d been recommended the island as a place to stay by our friends Ben and Jo back home, informing us that this almost untouched land mass 20 minutes off the coast was a romantic and peaceful paradise. Electricity ran through generators for only 4 hours a day and you were never surrounded by more than 20 people during your stay.

As our boat stuttered to a halt about 10 meters from the shore, Stannie, Sara and Rick studied the surroundings to plan an escape route onto land for their handicapped passenger. Although I am always loathe for anyone to label me a hero, I bravely decided that I would make my own way onto the beach, jumping off the side of the boat, landing on one leg into the water, then hopping like crazy until I hit sand. Whilst I could see there was genuine concern on the faces of the Politz-Damergi’s and Stan to my plight, I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was hope of a comedic coming together of Indian body mass and unforgiving seawater in a most undignified manner. They can confirm or deny this, I stand by my story.

We set about finding accommodation for our two-night stay. By accommodation, I mean wooden huts on stilts, a stone’s throw from the water, with a bed, insect net and en-suite water bucket. We picked two magnificent looking structures next to each other, with matching mini-verandas overlooking vast ocean.

After a spot of brunch, and once Stan had cleaned up my injury-laden foot in the medical centre (our mini-veranda), we decided a light swim would be in order. I looked on forlornly as Rick and Sara frolicked around in the warm, inviting water, followed by Stannie.

Sod this. I’m going in.

I probably didn’t say ‘sod’. I’d like to think I’m a bit more down with the kids than that but I know my mum reads this blog. So ‘sod’ will be the preferred vernacular in this instance. Love you Mum x

With the A Team music escaping from lips, Stan and I skilfully set about building an airtight, waterproof contraption for my left foot. One plastic bag and hairband later, I too was gracefully gliding through the beautiful water, diving to the sea bed, breaching the surface like an acrobatic marine demi-god, playfully chasing Stannie further out to sea, blissfully unaware that the moment my left foot entered the water the carrier bag soaked through. She must’ve not put the hairband on correctly…

After our aquatic excursions, Sara and Rick lay out in the sun on a deck in front of their hut, whilst Stan and I snuggled on the hammock on our veranda. A rainstorm halted proceedings momentarily but the sun burst through the clouds once again, moments later. A bandage change and dinner later, and with electricity out at 10pm, we said our goodnights and went to dreamland.

The next day was pretty much spent as the previous. Instead this time, Rick and I made the bold decision to hire two large inflatable tyres. It’s amazing how much fun you can have with a rubber ring, even as an adult. Apart from when the tide washes it up onto shore, with a struggling, beached invalid sprawled across it, desperately trying to keep his foot dry. With the injury and general lack of any sort of dexterity (I’d also been carrying a bit of ‘holiday weight’ at this time), Stannie manfully attempted to get me to my feet with a semblance of dignity, as Rick stood about 10 feet from us, snapping away on his camera. ‘I would help but I’ve GOT to get pictures of this…’

The girls went for a massage further along the beach. Rick and I drifted slowly in and out of snoozes on our respective hammocks, in-between some light reading and looking over and nodding at each other in approval of our surroundings.

‘Could be worse, couldn’t it?’

Each patch of huts had their own family of dogs, and much to our delight, our matriarch had given birth to a beautiful brood of little puppies, of which we casually ‘liberated’ a couple to play with in our respective huts.

As you can probably tell, there isn’t a whole lot to do on Rabbit Island. This is precisely what makes it so wonderful. If we didn’t have aspirations of changing the world in some way or another, I could envisage the four of us could’ve quite happily spent a lifetime here.

After dinner and a game of cards, we once again departed to our huts after lights out. Only on this particular night, there would be a stunning array of lights around the island. Sara’s Mum had called earlier in the day to warn us that there was a tsunami hitting the region a few hundred miles away, and to stay on our guard. Had we been on the mainland, this wouldn’t have caused too much bother, but currently residing on an island at sea-level with little chance of any contingency plan, it was slightly unsettling.

A storm hit at about midnight. I could feel the almost horizontal rain hitting our bodies in the hut through gaps in the roof and walls.. Stan has never been overly enamoured by thunder, so I tried my best to protect her from the elements using bits of clothing and our bed sheet. Every now and then, the pitch black atmosphere around us would suddenly break out into white light, casting arachnid-shaped shadows across the hut walls.

We decided to check out Mother Nature’s show from our veranda. Even with the pounding rain and hostile wind, we were treated to a most extraordinary natural show. We gazed at the sky for what felt like hours, but was probably only a few minutes, cuddled together and inviting a few of the shivering canines to share our body warmth.

The next morning we made the trip back to the mainland. Stannie and I would spend one more night at Jasmine, whilst the Politz-Damergi’s were making their way back to Sihanoukville to visit Rick’s Dad. Having eaten lunch and then entertained a couple of cheeky siblings with a newly invented card game called, ‘Whatever Card The Kid Has They Win’, we embraced our wonderful friends and waved them off to carry on their own globe-trotting journey.

After an unsuccessful attempt to seek out and catch giant centipedes back at Jasmine, we ate another hearty dinner and chatted to a Kiwi family who regularly visited Jasmine. We found out they were personally funding a trip back to Kep for a Cambodian couple they had met in New Zealand. I won’t go into too much detail about the reasons for this so as to protect privacy, but as I am writing this having spent a few months in Auckland, I can tell you this type of generosity is not uncommon amongst Kiwis.

Further along the coast, Kampot would be our next destination. But for tonight, we lay in our bed surrounded by the noisy gibbons in the jungle and treated ourselves to a few episodes of The American Office, which by now, Stannie had her own lyrics to add to the theme music.

‘I aaammm going to the oooofiiiicce. It iiiiis, going to be fuuuun……’

Idiot.

S+R xxx



In the Jungle, the mighty jungle. Our heroes sleep tonight….

Cambodia Posted on Sat, December 18, 2010 20:07:02

‘Watch out for the killer caterpillars’ – Sara Politz-Damergi. Jasmine Valley, Kep, Cambodia

We arrived in Kep in the afternoon. Kep is a lovely, Southern coastal town against the backdrop of a rainforest, still fairly untouched by the tourist boom (although numbers are rising each year). A sight for sore eyes as we got off the bus. Looking tanned, relaxed and sickeningly beautiful, our great friends Rick and Sara Politz-Damergi greeted us. We exchanged hugs and kisses then made the short trip to our home for the night, Jasmine Valley.

The beautiful couple on one of their THREE wedding days

Rick and Sara had already been staying at Jasmine for the week and had regaled in its beauty and charm. They weren’t wrong. Jasmine Valley is in its infancy as an eco-resort. Set in dense rainforest and national park terrain, it houses thatched, mud and brick bungalows. Everywhere you turn, the energy, beauty and wonderment of our natural world jumps out at you. It is powered almost exclusively by solar energy, with great care being taken into using natural resources to build this most elegant of places.

Created and managed by Owen and Jasmine, a wonderful and happy couple, who exude their happiness and peaceful beings to the rest of the staff, they have created a Utopia inside a Utopia. The reception area also houses the bar, chill-out areas and a wonderful pool that fills up in the rainy season. There is a nature walk that the able-bodied (grrr) can negotiate to the tops of the valley, where you will find all sorts of wonderful plant and animal life. Heaven!

Rick and Sara had booked us into the largest duplex tree-house (for an obscenely miniscule rate) which is where we dropped off our bags. The ground floor housed a natural toilet, shower and bathroom area. Walking up the wooden steps to the top floor, we all gasped, including the Politz-Damergi’s, even though they had been in these surroundings for the past seven days.

To our left was a beautifully and ecologically designed bedroom area; to the right was the real piece de resistance. An open plan ‘living room’, complete with a hanging chair, table, relaxing seats and best of all, a panoramic view of the huge national park around us. Utterly, utterly stunning.

Having caught our breaths, we headed back to the main area. Rick and Sara got into their swimming attire and frolicked in the beautiful pool. For someone whom I remember having the most inordinate fear of spiders, Rick was unfazed by the two large arachnids lazing by the water’s edge. As the happy newlyweds playfully splashed around in the water, whispering sweet-nothings into each other’s ear, Stannie and I took pictures and relaxed in the swinging chairs. Stannie was really in her element. Always stunning regardless, this late afternoon she glowed with the essence of her surroundings and them dimples were deeper than I had ever seen for the grinning.

For the first time in a month, I held a guitar in my hands, and proceeded to play some tracks into the evening. Owen, as Rick had pointed out to me beforehand, has this unique soft whistle. The type that you could sit and listen to for hours on end. He absent-mindedly provided us with a backing track to our catch-up stories and merriment. We decided to order dinner, of which I requested the Khmer Vegetable Curry. Divine! Eating food is always eventful in the bar area, mainly because of Owie, one of the family dogs who resides at Jasmine Valley. Constantly on the look-out for nourishment and a bundle of unsuppressed energy, nipping away playfully at the merest hint of attention and causing minor-havoc with anything within a 6-inch radius of his mush. Oh and untapped bravado when squaring up to the disinterested, much bigger canines, peacefully trying to laze in the sun.

With full stomachs and catching-up out of the way, we headed back to our tree-house. Into the night we chilled-out, playing Michael Jackson Top Trumps, which Sara had never played before (and got alarmingly competitive about!), taking pictures of an almost silent and wondrous electrical storm and listening to the wildlife showing off their impressive vocal skills. The next morning, we would be heading to Rabbit Island, just off the coast of Kep. Sleepy time for us. Mating calls, mischief-making and general boisterousness from the gibbons in the jungle…

To sign this off, here is the Jasmine Valley Philosophy, as found on their website, www.jasminevalley.com. Please visit it and have a look through what they offer, how they are building the resort and also, what they are doing for the local Cambodian people they hire. And for God’s sake, please visit this incredible place at least once in your lifetime. Thank you to Jasmine, Owen and the rest of the fantastic staff at Jasmine. Oh and of course, Owie, the little rascal…

Jasmine Valley – the philosophy

We hope to create a place for travellers to relax – completely. We like to work with what the environment already offers and draw from that as inspiration. The Cambodian jungle, by the sea in Kep, offers a wonderful range of things to satisfy all senses. We think we’re on the right track, as, often, our guests find themselves relaxing in Jasmine Valley, reading, spotting wildlife, trekking, enjoying good conversation, rather than going out and ‘doing things’ that they had originally planned.

We build with bamboo, thatch and the earth on the property. Of course, other materials are also necessary, but we like the idea of building off the land.

We work with renewable or inexhaustible resources as often as practicable, such as solar energy for electricity throughout Jasmine Valley.

We also have a number of ideas we’re working on, to create educational and employment opportunities for Cambodian people.



Run Cupcake Woman Run

Thailand Posted on Fri, December 03, 2010 10:44:27

‘I don’t think you understand the severity of the situation’ – Auroraman, Bumrungrad Hospital, Bangkok

We had to travel back to Bangkok from Koh Tao the day after my accident, as I required medical attention for my injuries in a hospital. This was lucky as Bangkok has some of the best hospitals in the world, which is handy.

After a 12-hour 4×4, boat and bus ride, (don’t call me a hero), and being helped with our bags by a rather lovely Spanish/Italian couple, we arrived in Bangkok in the late evening. After having to haggle our way into a taxi that wasn’t trying to fleece us, the final leg of the journey saw us dropped off outside the Bumrungrad Hospital in the Sukhumvit area of town. I was instantly placed in a wheelchair and wheeled to the Accident and Emergency area. I could get used to this.

Unfortunately, we were too late to see the specialist about my foot, and would we mind coming back in tomorrow morning? I was happy to do this. Due to the severity of the situation, it was only right that I deserved a specialist. I nonchalantly noticed that the waiting room was showing live Premiership football. Maybe we should stay? After all, it was imperative for me to get medical attention. Yes, we should stay. At least for 90 minutes or so. I verbalised my concerns to Stannie.

A couple of minutes later we were in the hotel lobby that would be our home for the next week. A lovely hotel very near to the hospital and in a wonderful turn of events, opposite a Lebanese/Moroccan/Indian café/restaurant. I knew what our diet would consist of for the foreseeable future. Our room was large, with a seating area and sports channels showing live Premiership football (HA!). Thank you insurance company.

The next day, we were in the hospital lobby bright and early to see the specialist. I was placed in a wheelchair and wheeled up to the floor we needed to be on. I was getting really used to this. Bumrungrad has got to be one of the most impressive hospitals I’ve ever had the fortune of attending. Its demeanour and architecture is more akin to a 5+ star hotel, a bit like the ones we saw in Dubai.

The hospital has three main buildings. They consist of its own hotel, food hall and shopping centre, as well as the actual hospital. The staff treated us like Indian and Welsh bourgeoisie. I’m not sure I’ve ever got used to treatment of this manner so much in my life. I was parked in the waiting room, whilst Stannie went off on a mission to sort out our insurance claim.

I was shown into an office where the doctor could assess my situation, which if I haven’t mentioned previously, was one of severity. He asked me what injuries I had sustained. Once I had informed him, he laughed. Actual laughter, whilst pointing at my cast. **

‘Why did they put such a huge cast on you? It’s ridiculous!’

I don’t think he understood the severity of the situation.

‘I don’t think you understand the severity of the situation’

‘We’ll take a look at it now but I’m sure if everything is healing as should be, you won’t have anything to worry about’

I was in a lot of pain though.

‘I’m in a lot of pain though’

‘Mr Mohial, I think it would be easier if you trust me on this. I’ve been a doctor for a very long time’

‘I come from a family of doctors’

He looked slightly exasperated. Unprofessional. ‘We’ll take a look and take the relevant action from there’

‘I concur’

‘Concur with what exactly?’

‘Exactly’

‘Right. Nurse please take Mr. Mohial into the treatment room’

And with that he marched out of the room. **

Whilst I was guiding a world-class doctor in the procedures pertaining to situations of severity, Stannie found herself sprinting through each building of the hospital, being sent back and forth through various departments in order to sort out our insurance claim for medical expenses. Due to a factor of time differences between continents and our insurance company not being registered with the hospital, it was proving to be a most arduous task.

No sooner would she overcome one hurdle, another three would rise up against her. Looking back on it with fresh eyes, I’m so proud of the way she handled the situation. This would go on all week but she never once made me aware of the just how much hard work the insurance side of things were. A lesser person would have broken. Stannie don’t play that game.

Speaking of individuals with immense intestinal fortitude, I was ready to take the cast off my leg so the doctor and nurses could take a look at the damage. All was going well until the bandage on my big toe was coming off. It was stuck to the flesh where my toenail should’ve been. In the end, I had to prise it off myself in stages, but we got there.

**The doctor and I took a look at the injuries so we could make our diagnoses. We both declared that the broken toe needed just a strapping, and the big toe was healing very nicely with little or no chance of infection. ** Great news. I was very pleased about hearing…diagnosing….this information when I spied the nurse pouring iodine onto a swab and slowly bring it down onto my toe….

By the time Stannie managed to find out where I was and came to the treatment room, I had been calmed down and was in a good mood due to the lovely new cast I had been given with its own special shoe. As a kid, I have never broken anything or needed any sort of special support for an injury (that I can remember), I was living a childhood dream.

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We went back into the doctor’s office, where he said to rest up and come back every other day to change the dressing. So we made our journey back to the hotel, picking up some hummus, Lebanese bread, yoghurt, salad, Peshawari naan, garlic naan, daal, rice, paneer, samosas and a vegetable bhalti. After that Stannie ordered some sort of aubergine dish for herself.

Now I won’t bore anyone with the exact details of our week spent in the hotel and visiting the hospital every other day. It would make for monotonous reading. To summarise our 7 days living in the lap of luxury we:

· Watched six full seasons of The Office: An American Workplace. Twice.

· Ate a lot of Lebanese/Moroccan/Indian food. Sometimes for lunch and dinner. The hotel provided breakfast.

· Visited the hospital a couple of times. Mainly just to be wheeled around the buildings.

· Ventured out twice. Both times to shop. Both times the trip was cut short due to my injury.

· Watched some football.

· Stannie spent a LOT of time visiting the hospital on her own and on the phone to sort out insurance.

· Watched six full seasons of The Office: An American Workplace a further two times.

· General relaxation and non-movement. Mostly on my part.

Cambodia was calling at the end of our week’s stay in the hotel. But first I needed to get the all-clear from the doctor in order to fly and travel around a country with primitive medical facilities compared to that of Bangkok. The toes were healing nicely. Having an iodine-clean no longer made me want to amputate my foot from the rest of my body and nervous system. I was good to go!

We had been looked after incredibly by the Bumrungrad hospital www.bumrungrad.com and staff at the FuramaXclusive Hotel www.furamaxclusive.com/sukhumvit . As has been the case everywhere we have been on our travels, the good people of Thailand made sure our care was their absolute priority. If you’re going to have an injury of utmost severity as I did, you couldn’t be around a better hospital or hotel to recuperate (Bumrungrad is actually top in a host of ‘best hospitals globally’ polls). Thank you.

The best thing about being temporarily disabled is how quickly you are ushered away from the general plebeians around you and taken into priority areas, which is mostly evident at the airport. What was normally a tedious task of waiting around in queues, being herded into departure lounges, buses etc hardly made a dent in our schedule as we were whisked to and from areas we needed to be. Next time you’re at an airport, make sure to take some crutches.

Onwards to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, for the next part of our adventure. How I was going to deal with being incapacitated, only time would tell. We settled in our seats (at the very front row of the plane, of course) and took off.

‘Baba, have I ever told you that I come from a family of doctors…?’

** Some of the events and conversations marked may have been slightly exaggerated or reconstructed for comedic effect. Others are outright lies…

S+R xxx



The One Where Cupcake Woman Saved Auroraman

Thailand Posted on Sun, November 21, 2010 07:57:39

‘Dammit! They think I’m waving at them!’ – Cupcake Woman, adjacent bay to Black Tip Resort, Koh Tao, Thailand

Today was the day. I was definitely going to experience my first taste of swimming with sharks in open water. After the disappointment of the previous days’ snorkelling trip, where bad weather prevented us from diving in marine hotspots with guaranteed sightings, I was determined to follow up on some advice given to us by a fellow traveller a few days previously.

According to our oracle, the bay next to our resort, a mere 25-minute snorkel as the , er, crow flies, was teeming with sprightly reef sharks and barracuda, as long as we were patient and carefully trod water for a short time.

I should have heeded the first warning sign given.

Actually. Before I go on, I feel I should explain why swimming with one of the most successful predators on this planet is so dear to me. Since the age of six, I have fed my brain with general knowledge about sharks in a most voracious manner. I could rattle off the Latin names of most of the big-hitters to you, the reader, and if you gave me a couple of minutes, I would more than likely remember some of the D-listers too. Yes, I’ve just categorized sharks into their popularity. That’s what happens when you ‘read’ your other half’s discarded Heat magazines.

From largest down, Whale Sharks measure an average of 8-12 meters, concluding with Cookie-cutter Sharks, which measure up to 50cms. If you were to question me on what the largest shark in recorded history was, I would reply that it was a Whale Shark, measuring 12.65 meters (I haven’t checked that statistic in a few years, so I may have just mugged myself off there). The heaviest Great White was over 3,000lbs and in all there are around 360 species of shark and counting, with a measly 30 of these considered ‘dangerous’ to man.

These species have been around for 400 million years, with very little change in their evolution. That’s about 399,900,000 years before early, Neanderthalic Man first grunted and bludgeoned its way around the planet, if memory serves. Their only NATURAL predators are Orca’s and bigger sharks. Have a think about that the next time you want to order sharks fin soup at the local oriental…

Hopefully I’ve painted a small picture of just how enthused I am by these creatures. Some may find it geeky, but I’d rather feed my brain with fact, figures and general knowledge about our planet and the universe around us than worry about the performances and voting prowess of someone-or-other in some ambiguous, moron-inducing reality ‘television’ programme….leave it there Ram, leave it there….

Anyway…

The first sign that the day’s events would take a turn for the worse was when, after much brute force and ignorance from my part, I managed to break the clasp connecting my snorkel to my mask.

That’s it. It wasn’t meant to be. God despises me and I want to go home.

Stannie, as she does so patiently well, managed to placate the thunderstorm brewing in my cranium. That was until her gear, which she had unselfishly offered to me and to which I had graciously accepted after protestation of intense magnitude (I snatched it off her) broke. In exactly the same manner as mine had previously.

That’s it. It wasn’t meant to be. God despises me and I want to go home.

After a brief demonstration of how the snorkels could still operate sans clasps, and gentle forehead stroking coupled with soothing, ‘Poor little bunny’s, we travelled the short distance to beachside. There was a strong breeze blowing along with the clouds causing an overcast haze in the sky. In spite of this the sea current ebbed and flowed in a calm fashion, which surely meant near-perfect visibility.

I’d already resigned myself to lying on the beach, grumbling and spending the hours reading a bit of Stephen Fry (excellent, by the way), when Stannie called out about 20 meters from shore.

‘The visibility is better when you get further out’.

Bless her; she wasn’t going to let me give up on my dream. Although…Hang on…Technically. Technically. The events that conspired are mainly her fault…Just saying….

My dilemma now was whether to bask in the solace of my grumpiness all day, or make the final push and instigate an exclusive encounter with the elusive sharks. We snorkelled up to the edge of our bay. The water was a lot deeper than I expected and looking to our left, all we could see was a murky, blue expanse.

I could make out the coral formations on the sea bed. There was little other sea life but I took this as a good sign that sharks were in the area. Or it might’ve been because of the gargantuan, chugging engine running from the dive boat ahead of us.

Oh for fu….

As we got closer to our destination, we stopped at a large rock breaking the surface. I was pretty much dead inside by now, petulantly grumbling under my breath about how this was everyone else’s fault but my own. With the dive boat engine still bellowing like a Jason Newstead bass line, we decided to swim to the rocky shore of the bay to decide what to do next.

Climbing onto the jagged rocks, I realised we’d swam quite a distance. Therefore, I deduced that we should carry on to the main area of the bay via the unwelcoming terrain.

‘It’ll be quicker…’

No sooner had I taken my first tentative steps, disaster struck. I went from a vertical position to crashing into the rocks within a second. A further second later I came to my senses and surveyed the damage. Head. Check. Arms. Check. Chest/midriff/back area. Check. Right leg. Check. Left leg. Ah…I couldn’t see my left foot, which was submerged under water in-between two rocks, out of sight.

Before I brought my foot out from its enforced hiding place, I think we both realised something wasn’t right. Stannie was transfixed; waiting for the inevitable as I quickly raised my foot out of the water. I felt the adrenaline rush through my body and wave of nausea overcame me as I surveyed the damage. My big toe was a bloody, mangled mess and my second toe was bent at an angle that no part of the body should ever be succumbed to. Stannie gasped.

‘Oh my god. Oh my god!’

‘It’s ok. It’s ok. It’s ok. It’s ok….’

As I clambered to a seated position, I tried to remain calm but I could feel my body trembling. I must have gone into shock as I couldn’t feel any pain.

‘I just need…I just need…’ I had no idea what I needed.

‘Can you swim or should I call for help?’

Male bravado and stubbornness struggled to get the better of me but thankfully I succumbed to common sense.

‘I think you should call for help’

Stannie instantly sprang into action. Gracefully negotiating the rocks like a young Lara Croft,, she belied the treacherousness of the terrain and paid no heed to the deep cuts forming on her own feet. There was nothing out to sea as she surveyed the horizon. This wasn’t good.

‘Help! Help!’

Like a scene cut straight from a feature film, a fishing boat appeared in the distance. Stannie frantically waved her arms, to which the fisherman delightedly waved back.

‘Dammit! They think I’m saying hello!’ Thai people really are very friendly.

Finally, the fisherman realised the gravity of the situation and powered over. I was in the boat in no time thanks to their strength and guile and we were given an emergency lift to our resort. As I quite sickeningly realise now, I was trying to force my ‘dislocated’ bone back into place vigorously during the ride.

Once at the resort, we got into the back of a 4×4 for the trip to the island’s medical centre. As Stan has mentioned in a previous blog, this trip is very bumpy and devoid of what we would call, ‘roads’, in the UK. Luckily Stannie got her glasses out to guide me on any upcoming hazards ahead, duly dropping her spectacles case on my left toes. I persevered on the ride to force my mutated digit back into place.

At the medical centre, I lay down on the bed so the nurse could inspect the damage. After a quick x-ray they confirmed the injuries. A broken toe and a big toenail that was MIA. Upon hearing the news, the tears welled up, followed by nausea and hyperventilation. Luckily, I managed to placate Stannie and she went for a sit-down. What followed I will never forget. PURE IODINE SOLUTION ON EXPOSED FLESH AND NERVES. Words fail me…

Now, I must explain, whilst the nurses at the centre were adept at diagnoses they were no doctors. This might explain the confused looks on how to strap up my broken toe and the eventual plaster cast up to my knee, my foot at a 45 degree downward angle, rendering any attempt at a standing position unaided futile.

‘I think I might need crutches’

‘Ah yeh. Of cor Sir. 1500 baht’ (apologies for the casual racism)

‘Brilliant’. God bless the National Health Service.

After her dad, Paul, had very kindly spoken to our insurers and relayed relevant information between the two parties, Stannie signed the relevant documents and settled the costs (the first of many signings, handovers, phone calls and general insurance related annoyances that she would have to endure over the coming weeks. Wonder Woman). We went back to the resort, managed to grab a bite to eat and then made the journey up to our bungalow.

The route to our bungalow was easy enough with two functioning appendages. Some steps, then a little walk through untouched forest terrain, concluding with a steep set of steps up to our stilted bungalow. A couple of minutes it normally took. Half an hour later, as I scaled the last step onto our patio sat on my buttocks, I did what any hardened, alpha-male would do. I burst into tears.

Stoopid sharks. Should be hunted to extinction….

S+R xxx



Is it a bird? Is it a plane?? No, it’s AuroRaman! (being carried by Cupcake Woman due to mass alcohol consumption…)

Dubai Posted on Sat, October 09, 2010 09:21:57

‘Its just you and me Baby’ – AuroRaman, 6th October 2010. Dubai, UAE.

And so our adventure began, six days ago in Dubai. Having bid an emotional farewell to our respective families, friends and our ‘home’, we hopped on the Airbus to meet relatives and take in a city neither of us had been to before. A good starting point to ease our way into impending travels. If I may so humbly make a prediction, every pre-conception you have of Dubai is probably true, and if it isn’t, they’ll build it for you.

The people are polite and professional. Service is key in this part of the world, which is refreshing after watching manners and common courtesy slowly evaporate in London over the years. Everyone we conversed with was fairly fluent in a host of languages. Food is almost fully imported, so our cheese fix was never far away and a host of cuisines were available to enrich the taste buds, which we took full advantage of.

The resorts, oh dear lord, the resorts! New stars had to be created in the hotel rating system to incorporate what Dubai’s finest have to offer. We kinda went on a whistle-stop tour of most of the big-hitters, each one vying to be even more ludicrously impressive and OTT than its neighbour. My personal favourite was the Madinat Jumeirah resort, a utopic man-made paradise complete with a canal system Venice wouldn’t kick out of bed for breaking wind.

Day one saw us arrive in Dubai to be picked up by my little cousin, Karan. By little I mean he’s a few months younger than me, not because he is 6’3 odd and built for a rugby scrum. The first thing you notice is obviously the searing heat and humidity, which I felt I should mention, considering we were fairly near the equator and surrounded by desert. Apparently this time of year is ‘mild’.

It was hard to believe we were travelling through what was once sparse desert, the landscape was nothing short of unbelievable. Think of a futuristic metropolis that wouldn’t look out of place in latter-day Superman films. Just without the flying vehicles, although they’re probably not far off…

Our arrival in the Jumeirah area and what would be home for the next three days gave us the chance to see my aunt Nindi, a very peaceful, beautiful and serene lady who reminds me a lot of my own wonderful mum, Taranjeet Uncle, a warm-hearted man who oozes calm and confidence, and Bhuaji, Karan’s grandmother and the quintessential matriarch of the family. Oh and how can I forget Sonu, the 17-year old Yorkshire terrier who I met on the day he came into the family.

After a much-needed sleep (Emirates do the most divine in-flight entertainment), my uncle Kawal took us to Jumeirah Beach to have a look round the famous landmarks/hotels in the area, and afterwards, lounge by the pool with a refreshing mocktail.

Kawal reminds me a lot of Robin Williams in full flow. Every other line that comes out of his mouth is either a witty comment or deprecating low-blow (for comedy purposes obviously). As he kept reminding us during our mocktail session, we needed to get on the hard stuff soon or risk ‘deportation’ for crimes against lack of alcohol consumption. His second name is Kohli. People call him Al-Kohli round these parts, which is rather fitting if you get the play on words.

That evening, Karan and Al-Kohli took us to a lovely outdoor bar/restaurant by the Creek, which is a river that separates ‘Old Dubai’ from ‘New Dubai’. We enjoyed a mixed buffet of Mediterranean and Eastern delights plus some fried stuff with cheese. Luckily for us, according to Kawal, we had done just about enough at the end of the evening not to get deported. Karan isn’t drinking at the moment and training hard, so apologies if your reading this mate, I know I’m hard work at the best of times, thanks for dealing with Drunk Ram so well.

Our penultimate day in Dubai saw us go on a desert safari in the golden sands between Dubai and Oman. In specially-fortified Jeeps, we were thrown around the dunes in maniacal fashion, only just being able to steady ourselves to see the fantastic view of a troupe of at least 100 cars like ours, fighting the sands at the same time. I found it rather hilarious that Stannie didn’t realise the drivers released the air from their tyres to counteract the punishing terrain. I knew that all along, I just neglected to tell her until it was obvious. Obviously…

As the sun was setting across the golden sea, we arrived at our next destination. The exterior reminded me of the Roman camps illustrated in the Asterix series of comics. Four wooden walls which housed an interior of a large dancing area, buffet, souvenir shops, shisha area and communal meeting points. Around the large dancing area were tables of 6 where we, the guests, could sit on Persian rugs and cushions and enjoy the festivities. Oh yeah, I also tore up the dune buggy track beforehand like a young, Indian Ayrton Senna.

Before dinner, Stannie had her first experience with Shisha smoking. I must say, for someone that believes ‘only bad people smoke’, she took to it very well. I may well purchase one when we get to New Zealand in that case. It’s that or a Playstation…

The next day, we went to the Burj Khalifa, the tallest man-made structure in the world. To do this, we had to enter the biggest mall in the world, which houses the biggest aquarium in the world. As we were going up the elevator at a rate of 10 meters per second, my insides started churning and I realised I needed the biggest shi….

The view from the top really encapsulated how much work had gone into making Dubai a thriving centre for luxury and decadence in the middle of an extreme environment. We were on the 124th floor out of 200+. You weren’t allowed any higher. I felt disappointed until I looked down. ‘Flippin’ eck!’.

Our last evening in Dubai saw us starting off with a few drinks at the aforementioned Medinat Jumeirah. The bar we went into was like one big Martini advert, except they were playing hits from Pearl Jam, The Police and Beastie Boys. Many people came up to Karan and Kawal to shake their hands, like a scene from The Godfather. I ordered a pint of Stella.

After having dinner at a family friends’ oriental restaurant, complete with covert drinking operations, we headed to what we kept being referred to as a place to view our ‘culture’. Now, the only thing I’ll say about this is that people can interpret the word ‘culture’ in many different ways. What goes on tour stays on tour.

I should mention, this was hopefully my last night of drinking whilst we are away much to Al Kohli’s displeasure (‘Vegetarian and teetotal? You disgust me’). I think it was a fitting send off, thank you dearest family.

I feel what surprised us during our trip was that although some of the most impressive feats of human engineering are on show here, there is also an approving nod to our natural world in a lot of Dubai’s steel. Buildings based on the shape of a delicate flower, the insistence of water being a theme in most constructions and an abundance of approving nods to Mother Earth’s animal kingdom in the world’s tallest towers and crystal-clear lakes, delight and confuse at the same time. It would befuddle even the most hardened tree-hugging, left-leaning, Guardian-reading, vegetarian hippy (do you know anyone that fits that description?).

The most enjoyable element of our time in Dubai, with utmost sincerity, was the conversation, banter and musings we engaged in with our family. The backdrops were stunning, but they pale into insignificance. It’s times like these that it hits you, New Zealand is going to be a lonely place sometimes.

In a land fit for the bluest of blood, our family still surpassed themselves with the care they took into making our stay as pleasurable as possible. Nothing was too much to ask for and we sincerely thank you for all you did for us. We were truly treated like royalty, my mate Ben would’ve been proud of the way his ‘little Indian prince’ was handled!

Hungover, uncomfortable and hot, we settled into the seats on the plane. One chapter down, who knows how many to go before we reach Middle Earth? Thailand please, Mr Pilot. I closed my eyes to reflect on the last few days. This is it, now we really are on our own. Six weeks of not knowing what lies ahead, bar meeting the incomparable team Politz-Damergi’s in Cambodia (looking forward to it guys). We miss our friends. We miss our family. But thinking about our future? What a rush! I turn to Stannie. ‘It’s just you and me Baby…’

S+R xxx



In the beginning, there was northern lights and cupcakes…

Introduction Posted on Fri, October 08, 2010 09:32:27

‘I still can’t comprehend what we’re doing!’ – Cupcake Woman, 6th October 2010. Bangkok, Thailand

I consider myself a rather astute and aware individual, but I don’t think I could have envisaged that this would be our setting, on this humid, sticky evening. One of eight people dining at a spacious Thai eatery in a non-descript suburb, half an hour from the centre of Bangkok.

The décor going for ‘traditional’ yet comfortably screaming ‘1970’s British/Indian family home’ and a wonderful backing track of tuneless yet sincere Thai karaoke threatening to drown out our conversation, makes for an intriguing scene. All the more surreal considering we were in one of Dubai’s most exclusive resorts 24 hours earlier, knocking back a host of exotic beverages in the exquisite surroundings of a man-made paradise.

And so, in a pregnant pause between a forgotten melody line, Stannie, one of the most in-control, logical and organised people I have ever met, swallowed her mouthful of vegetable stir-fry and uttered that unnerving line. What better way to encapsulate all that inspired that outburst than to chronicle musings, stories, strops and moments of enlightenment from what will surely be a magical quest between the two Poles. Oh yes, it is a quest. Is the spare room still free Mum?

S+R xxx