7th January 1999.
Well, here it is then, the final diary entry. It took me rather a while to churn
it out, it's good to have finished with it once and for all. Note that the whole
trip officially ended on 25th September 1998.
you will only be able to view photos or load sound files from this page if you
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was my favourite country?
Without a doubt
it has to be Ireland! Yah right! No, I'll be serious now. My real favourite
was India. Until visiting India no country had seemed to stand out from the
rest to the extent that I could say "Yes, this is the best". But India
for me is in a league of its own.
India, like any
country, has plenty of negative points of course (more than plenty for some
people) but there was no place I saw that had as much to offer a tourist. From
world class mountain scenery and architecture to great beaches and colourful
cultures it has enough variety to keep a hardy traveller interested for literally
Another area where
India surpasses its neighbours is in places to "learn stuff". Many people travel
to India just to spend 3 months on a yoga course or learning to play the sitar
or to study Buddhism. Because of the proficiency of many Indians for speaking
English, better than practically any Asian country, you can actually understand
what your teacher might be saying which is distinctly advantageous!
Of course, we
mustn't forget that all this comes at a price. And that price is shag all, as
we say in Ireland. It is quite easy to eat, sleep and travel all around for,
typically, under $8 a day. That means you would only spend $3,000 (IR£2,000)
for a whole year there! Now that's a bargain.
Add to that the
plentiful and cheap English bookstores, a vital resource for the long bus and
train trips, as well as very good food (though not to everyone's taste) and
you're onto a winner. Some people also rate India due to the plentiful and cheap
supply of certain mind-altering substances but needless to say I condemn the
use of such drugs ("pssst, hey man, pass that spliff over here, how'm I supposed
to finish this damn diary entry without a hit of Kashmiri gold?").
I get sick a lot?
I was quite lucky
in the health department. Though diarrhoea was a fairly common occurence (though
never as bad that I was in danger of ruining my underwear!) I only vomited once
on the entire trip and that was in my room on my own so it wasn't an embarrassing
experience such as what hurling up over a fellow traveller would have been.
I got giardia several times, a mild amoebic infection that results in diarrhoea
and very bad wind (what I mean is worse wind than I normally have, if you can
believe that) but is easily treated with a single dose of medicine. I had bad
headaches from altitude sickness a couple of times and nearly fainted from it
once in Tibet but that's about it as far as my sicknesses went (we will of course
make no mention of my rectal experience in New Delhi, the less said about that
you get fed up travelling for so long?
I did enjoy travelling on my own a lot though. It could be lonely sometimes
but it was great to be able to do your own thing all the time and not be constrained
by someone else’s plans or timetable. Having said that, I ended up spending
about half my time travelling with other people that I met along the way. I
can't take being on my own for that long. And you are almost continually meeting
backpackers along the way unless you really stray off the beaten path.
But by the time two
years had gone by I found I was getting a little weary. I seemed to greet each
new tourist sight with a "oh God, not another bleedin' temple / mosque /
museum / pyramid / beach etc. etc." That was the sign that it was about time
I went home but as I'd decided long before to make it as far as Egypt I just had
to soldier on! It's a tough life, the traveller's one ... :-)
greatest things I've seen?
to say of course but here’s 5 great (maybe not the greatest) things that I saw
on the trip.
||Mountains in Nepal. Definitely the greatest thing
I did see, the mountain views at the end of the Everest and Annapurna
Sanctuary treks. The photos do not lie.
||Temples of Angkor, Cambodia. And Angkor was definitely
the best architectural site I've ever seen, with a fantastic atmosphere
and loads of exploring to do.
||Taj Mahal, India. Maybe the world's greatest single
||Mountains in Pakistan. I love mountain
scenery and the Karakoram Highway in the north of Pakistan puts massive
mountains and glaciers just a short walk from your guesthouse.
||Jokhang Temple, Tibet. For overall atmosphere and
cultural buzz this place is hard to beat, populated with ancient, leather-faced,
smelly, colourful pilgrims and mysterious monks.
The single greatest
thing about the trip though was probably the people I met along the way, mostly
my fellow backpackers!
Again, this is
very subjective but here’s five good ones that shouldn’t disappoint. I picked
one each from the categories: mountain scenery, architecture, people, sea &
For the first
year of the trip I carried a micro-cassette recorder with me (a dick-to-phone
as some of you know it) and I recorded various sounds along the way, people
singing, music, bats etc. This sound file here
is a recording made at Uluru (Ayer's Rock) in Australia with Sean from Scotland.
Sean was good at belching and we found a big crack in the side of Uluru that
gave a great echo so we tried to record Sean's belch echo. The first belch in
the file is Sean's actual one, the second one is the echo reflected back from
When I was on
the jungle island of Siberut for my 30th birthday a medicine man, Lala,sang
a song for us and I recorded it (Lala had his arm around me at the time). A
short excerpt can be found here.
I tried to teach a Japanese guy how to pronounce "ripe" here.
He just couldn't master the "r" sound, in the end all he managed to
say was "lipe".
An example of
ferocious young children trying to sell me cold drinks in Angkor, Cambodia can
be listened to here
in RealAudio format (I hope you have your RealAudio player installed).
Well, this is
another very subjective one and I find a lot of travellers tend to go overboard
and express sentiments such as "Such and such a people were amazing, incredibly
friendly, much better than such and such a people who were just awful".
I found that people tended to be a little more like you'd find anywhere, most
of them were friendly with plenty of bad ones to be found. If pressed though,
I would say that the Iranians were the most friendly.
Again, if pressed,
I would give the Chinese the lowest marks. A lot of them were fine but I think
there is a government-bred mistrust of foreigners in that country that in the
end affects the way you are treated to a noticeable degree.
The true worst
people though were the travel agents and taxi drivers. Definitely these are
the people that are most likely to screw you on your holiday (even more so than
your partner!). More than half the travel agents I dealt with tried to cheat
me in some way. Be careful out there!
The Indians, in
particular Kashmiris. I don't think I've come across a country that has more
con jobs going at the one time. The basic rule in avoiding them is if you come
across a situation in which a local person is showing you a way that you can
make a lot of money quickly then you can take it that you are being conned.
Also, if you are in a place where a lot of tourists frequent, e.g. the middle
of New Delhi or the Pyramids, you can make a fair assumption that you will not
meet any genuine, honest and friendly locals. Therefore, for example, if you
think you have just met a genuine, honest and friendly Indian (from Kashmir?)
at the Taj Mahal then most likely you are about to be conned. Quite simple really
but many Western people are too polite to simply ignore people that come up
and talk to them in the street and after five hours of being chatted to by this
friendly person they end up buying something off one of his friends just to
get rid of him. So rule one is don't be afraid to be rude!
One con-job that
I particularly like is this one: as you do when travelling you often pick up
a companion and travel with them for weeks at a time. Inevitably though it will
come time to part, they are going to another country or flying home or whatever,
and as you normally do you swap home addresses and phone numbers with the other
and promise to stay in touch. Well, as soon as you part, the other guy phones
your parents back in Ireland and gives them this story: "I'm calling from
India. Mike is in serious trouble. He is in jail. It looks like the local cops
planted hashish in his room and have taken him into custody and are saying that
he is guilty of drug possession. A drug possession conviction carries a mandatory
life sentence in India. It doesn't look good for Mike but there is a chance.
If I can bribe the police before they turn his case over to the state authorities
I think I can get him out of jail. I am told this is possible if I have $2,000.
Can you send this money now??"
First of all this
guy probably knows that you won't be phoning your parents for another week or
two so you won't be likely to call home and spoil his scam. Also, your parents
may be suspicious of him but what are they going to do? Not send the $2,000
and run the risk that he was telling the truth all the time? It's safer to just
send the money right? They wouldn't want to not send it and then discover next
week that you've been thrown into a hellhole in New Delhi for the rest of your
life, now would they?
A word of caution,
if the guy happens to know that your parents have recently seen the movie Midnight
Express then he is laughing all the way to the bank, he can comfortably
ask for at least $10,000 and be assured of getting it. You have been warned!
It was physically
difficult but logistically easier than I expected. Getting up at all hours of
the morning to hop on bone-jarring 14 hour bus rides wasn't that much fun though
it was nearly always an interesting trip. Having to find a new place to stay
every couple of days was a pain in the ass also. However, actually getting around
and getting fed turned out to be a simpler job than I anticipated.
Because you look
so obviously like a foreigner you tend to get helped a lot by the locals and,
as it turns out, getting on the right bus to a town and following the guidebook's
map from the bus station to the cheap hotels and then on to the restaurants
that may actually speak a little English was not that big a deal. Being able
to say hello, thank you, how much, the numbers and the ability to correctly
pronounce town and street names helps even further but is by no means necessary.
I've met people who've been months travelling around China who learnt not a
word of Chinese and still managed okay.
to go about it?
Simple, just read
the World Travel Guide and take it from there. It has all the advice you
need on what to do to get organised for a trip. Take it from me, it's not that
hard. I still remember the day in Fiji when I first met travellers and I asked
them how long they were travelling ("6 months") and they asked me
and I said "One day". I was a novice back then, scared at what lay
before me but when you start meeting all the travellers that are doing exactly
what you are doing you begin to realise that a) you're not that special and
b) there are plenty of people to give you advice on how best to tackle the next
leg of your trip. You won't be alone!
need to use the toilet, it looks like the one in Trainspotting, what do I do?
Fear not, help
is at hand. If it's one thing I learnt to deal with travelling it was unruly
toilets. Here's the scoop.
The solution is
to subtly adapt the Oriental squatting technique to the Western-style toilet,
it takes a lot of finesse but the results, oh the results, sublime, divine,
no slime! Do the following: turn your back to the toilet bowl (I assume that
the bowl has not disintegrated to the extent that it is unworthy of the term
"toilet bowl") and drop your trousers/skirt so that the top of said
and your knickers (if you are wearing any) both huddle around your knees, no
lower, no higher. This is very important, if you gather your clothes any lower
than the knees then you'll find a nice surprise waiting in said clothes when
you finish your jobbie, gather them any higher and you'll find it extremely
difficult to move your legs apart enough to climb onto the bowl, an essential
step in actually completing the task before you with even a modicum of success.
Now, your back
is to the bowl, your clothes are down by your knees, I want you to climb backwards
onto the bowl, one foot on either side. Yes, yes, I know it seems like there's
no chance your shoes will get a safe grip on that slippery-looking porcelain
lip and that you're having visions of attempting to stand on it and your foot
slipping straight off down into the bowl, getting caught, you falling the other
way and fatally twisting the ankle in the bowl and then being forced, in agony
now, to scream for someone to come and rescue you from the toilet from hell.
Fear not pilgrim and trust me. It will amaze you how stable your foot grip will
be on that porcelain! Now, get climbing. You'll probably find it helpful to
grab a hold of something or press both hands against each wall to assist you
in steadying yourself while getting up on the bowl.
Okay, you're on
the bowl, now what do you do? Jaysus, if you don't know what to do from here
on in then you are in big trouble! No, seriously(!), you now have to squat down
to begin your operation. You may find however that you need to lean forwards
a little while squatting so as not to, er, drop anything on the rim of the bowl.
An interesting thing, though your bottom will be higher up than normal you will
discover that the back splash from the water (and stuff) in the bowl can still
jump high enough to reach your behind. This proves an essential law of phyics,
that every bowel action has an equal and opposite bowl reaction!
Once you've done
your business you are free to clean up in your accustomed manner and to step
gingerly down from the bowl and back to the safety of dry land. Pull up your
clothes, fasten your zips etc. and give yourself a hearty pat on the back. You'll
probably feel pretty strange the first time you try this manoeuvre but the obvious
benefits will convince you to keep with it and to hone your technique to perfection.
Did you notice
what the main benefit of the method was? Not one part of your body comes in
contact with anything on the toilet bowl, and no contact means no germs, and
no germs means you've just survived the toilet bowl from Trainspotting without
picking up a ghastly and fatal disease! You learn something new every day, eh?
countries would I go back to?
Sri Lanka. Nepal. Cambodia. Indonesia ... etc etc.
to lose 20lbs without even trying (AKA The Holy Grail of Women)
take a trip to India, the longer the better. Apart from the fact that travelling
in general seemed to reduce my waistline without any conscious effort on my
part a sojourn in India is bound to enhance the inch-loss rate. With a dose
or two of the runs almost guaranteed India will allow one the delight of gorging
oneself to the full while absorbing almost no calories, what more could you
ask for? I returned home 20lbs lighter than when I started, you can too!
Can be done on $6 a day, I found India to be more like a $7 a day country (India
would be second cheapest).
||Phra Nang beach, Krabi, Thailand.
A short boat ride from Krabi are two beaches known as East and West Railay.
They are situated on a promontory that is cut off from the mainland by impassable
limestone mountains thus effectively giving the Railay beaches the feel
of being on an island. Anyway, in between these two beaches, at the end
of the promontory is Phra Nang beach, a beach that is said to be Thailand's
most beautiful (I was reliably informed of this by several people who have
visited all of Thailand's tourist islands). Pictured to the left is West
Railay beach, which isn't bad either.
did I get money along the way?
In countries that
had ATMs then I used those. My Visa card is one of those that are also on one
of those global networks (Cirrus) which allowed me direct access to my current
account at my bank. Hence I could avoid cash advance interest and credit card
bills by taking money straight out of the current account.
Otherwise, I used
American Express offices worldwide to buy traveller's cheques, usually a $1,000
at a time. With an American Express card you can buy $1,000 in traveller's cheques
every three weeks with a personal cheque. So the money again comes straight
out of my bank account, there are no credit card bills to pay and no exchange
rates to worry about since my bank account was in the States, in U.S. dollars.
AmEx cards are pretty worthless I think when you only use them at home but they
are very useful when travelling.
were my fellow backpackers like?
tend to be a very good bunch on the whole. They are certainly more informed
than your average tourist and therefore a lot more interesting. They are also
the best source of information for tips on where to go next and on what the
current political situation is in the country you're hoping to visit and hence,
are an invaluable resource.
best places to take a crap?
Island, off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. Here, where I spent my 30th
birthday in the jungle, the interesting thing is that when you go to the toilet
(by picking your spot amongst the trees) you may very likely be joined by
the local dogs and pigs which is not what you want to happen. The pigs will
start eating whatever you drop and the dogs will even go as far as to lick
your bottom (helpful I guess if you've left your toilet paper back in the
hut but otherwise ... hmmm). Solution: bring with you a large stick and threaten
with violence any animal that makes a move to follow you out into the jungle!
View Guesthouse, Tingri, Tibet. This guesthouse, situated by a paved section
(no less!) of the Friendship Highway from Lhasa, Tibet to Kathmandu, Nepal,
makes a most interesting location for a crap. The toilet is located at the
top of a staircase by the road, surrounded by a waist-high wall and is open
to the elements. Yes, this is defecation-o al fresco! Not only do you get
a great view of the settlement from your perch (and everyone in the settlement
gets one of you too) you can, as the name suggests, see Mount Everest on a
clear day! Add to this the sandy floor which, when a wind is blowing, will
plaster your ass with a thick layer of grit and you get a crapping experience
second to none.
- Goan pig
toilet, India. I didn't actually get to Goa (a former Portuguese colony
and now a magnet for backpackin' beach bums) but I wanted to give a mention
to its famous toilets. These toilets tend to be built as a little shack on
stilts and placed above a pigsty. The pigs, on hearing a human enter the commode,
race over and wait hungrily below, mouths open, just waiting for you to let
fly through the gap in the floorboards. As I can testify from my experience
on Siberut Island there really is truth to the phrase "as happy as a
pig in shit". They lap that stuff up like it was the best Christmas pudding!
- Any Chinese
rural public toilet. Bus journeys in China tend to be enlivened by the
toilet stops. These places are usually stinking hellholes with no running
water and haven't seen a cleaning this side of the Cultural Revolution. The
experience of using these facilities is usually offset by the friendly atmosphere
due to there usually being no separate cubicles, just a line of holes without
walls, allowing you to feel a great sense of camaraderie with your neighbours
and the people waiting for your "berth" as you do your stuff within
sight of all and sundry! There are two things which should not be consumed
if going on a long journey in China, food and liquids. Stay away from these
and you may have some chance of avoiding the rural toilets (I once made a
32 hour train journey with only one toilet visit).
Anecdote: I was
corresponding with a friend I met on the Siberut Island trip in Indonesia (who
is currently employed as a journalist in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, hello there
Bone) and he suggested making the above list and nominated Siberut Island for
an entry. I mailed him back and told him about the great Everest view outdoor
toilet in Tibet and he replied that he himself had actually taken a dump in
that very same w.c. a couple of years before me. Now isn't that a heart melting
story, I feel all warm and fuzzy inside, to think that I sort of half-met good
old Bone once again when I added my calling card to the pile that contained
his! Sniff, sniff, I must brush a tear of emotion from my eye ...
That would have
to be Thailand. Everything is freshly cooked and often spicy which I like, green
chicken curry being my favourite and not forgetting of course the special Thai
deep fried insects (mmmm, locusts, yum yum). China comes in second I think with
India and Turkey being very good also.
No place had really
bad food but bottom of the pile must go to Indonesia where the food wasn't bad,
just very bland: fried rice and fried noodles being the boring staples here.
I had no dangerous
incidents as regards violent encounters. Asian cities are a lot safer than our
cities in the West and you can walk all over town at any time of the night and
not be in any danger (well, this is certainly true for men). Tourists tend to
be an obvious crime target anywhere you go but in Asia I almost never heard
of violent encounters with local criminals. You are far more likely to get your
hotel room ransacked than to actually find yourself being mugged.
I did have a few
self-created dangerous moments while climbing. Several times I managed to find
myself in a place from where I found it very difficult to get back down. I can
remember being very relieved a couple of times when I managed to make it back
to civilisation in one piece after getting myself badly stuck for a while on
some mountain or bunch of rocks.
No question, Vietnam
takes the trophy with Singapore being the runner-up.
Let's be clear
about this, I have no personal opinion or interest in this question but from
what I gathered from the Western women I met most Asian countries weren't up
to much in the men department though Tibetan men seemed to make some women go
thanks to my sister Mary who tirelessly looked after all my stuff in Ireland,
to my mother for paying a fortune to phone me every two weeks, to Paul
and Linda for looking after my San Diegan affairs and to all who kept
in contact with me over the years, it was very much appreciated. And not
to forget the long-suffering Charlie Wallace who kept these pages up-to
date during the trip and looked after my slides. I hope
you all got a kick out of the dispatches ... till next time, take care
... sniff, sniff, pass me a tissue for God's sake, ooh the emotion, the
dream is over ...