Category Archives: sport

the march of the monks

MonksI left a rather grumpy James in bed to get up at 6am and go and see the Luang Prabang monks do their daily walk down the main street collecting alms (rice and food) from the local towns people. Of course this religious ritual has become somewhat of a tourist parade but it is hugely captivating to watch the huge long line of brightly orange garbed monks, mainly the younger ones, in a long chain winding their way down the road.

Streets of Luang PrabangFor the rest of the day James and I decided to get involved with some adventure sports in the countryside around Luang Prabang. So we spent two hours in the morning mountain biking up and down some very rough roads out of the town past small villages, buffalo and coconut tree fields and ended up on the banks of the River Nam Kaun where our guide transferred us into a cute little two seater kayak and off we went down the river past some stunning scenery. In fact it was the scenery that proved to be my undoing. The river in the dry season is very flat and calm so the kayaking is fairly leisurely with no real rapids to speak of. Lured into a false sense of security and desperately wanting to photograph the scenery I pulled out my camera from the dry bag and took lots of photos. River scenes, Luang Prabang After a picnic lunch on the banks I decided to keep the camera out, hooked onto my life jacket. Then we hit our first rapids. These were the smallest, rippling rapids known to man but somehow they managed to hit our kayak side on and we capsized and along with myself and James my beloved camera tumbled into the water. Game Over. To my amazement two days later the camera is completely fine apart from the fact that the flash doesn’t work, long live the canon!

Night Market, Luang PrabangLuang Prabang has been the loveliest place to spend a few days. The old town is completely set up for tourists but it feels so laid back and is so picturesque it’s hard not to love. Our guest house was right opposite the Mekong and it was great just spending a day wandering around the temples, the roads, seeing the beautiful small colonial houses and the river peeking through the palm trees surrounding the peninsula. The town also has a small, colourful and embarrassingly cheap night market, even James didn’t bother bargaining. We spent our evening playing cribbage in the Lao Lao beer garden eating Buffalo steaks and drinking Beerlao (probably the best beer in SE Asia) and drinking two for one Lao whisky cocktails, this is definitely the life!

messing about on the Mekong

Flight of the Gibbon
Descending down between platforms, ThailandJames and I saw a slightly recovered, but still weak Mum off at Chiang Mai airport for her flight home and then went about planning our escape to Laos, but before leaving Thailand we found out about a zip-line tour through the forest canopy which both of us had previously done in Costa Rica but had never heard about being able to do in Thailand. The reason for this transpired to be the fact the activity only opened in January this year.

“We have had two months and no accidents or deaths!” Our grinning guides proudly announced.

Huge trees in the forest, ThailandWe started off visiting a nearby waterfall in the middle of some lush green forest with views out across the valley. It would have been a very peaceful morning had not the guy on our trip (a Hawaiian in Thailand with his wife for dental treatment!) said he’d seen James going further up to the top. So I waited for James to reappear and after a while as the others started walking back down became a little concerned so I went to check he was okay. I walked a good 20 minutes steeply up the steps, scrambling up over some slippery earth and so far up that I got turned back by a bloke with a large knife! And still no James. By now I’m convinced he’s fallen down unconscious somewhere. Of course I ran into him looking for me as I was going down, he’d been back at the start all along. Oh well, I was just glad to find him in one piece!

James incoming!After lunch we headed out to our starting platform, one of fifteen, for the zip-lining. For three hours the eight of us in the group got harnessed up to long lines from platforms suspended up in huge thick trees in the forest and went zooming along them or dropped down between platforms. Our guides were hugely entertaining, even when my bamboo stick ‘break’ that was tucked into my side strap nutted one of them in the crotch as I came into land! James spent most of the afternoon taking very amusing videos of himself zooming down the lines. It was huge amounts of fun especially flying over parts of the valley and seeing the canopy below you as you whiz along and finally stop, or in my case forget to use the break and half crash, into the guide waiting for you at the next platform. 

Chiang Mai Walking Market, ThailandWe got back to Chiang Mai with enough time to take a stroll through the walking night market, I gazed hungry eyed at all the stalls and crafts on sale but managed to restrain myself by just buying some fisherman pants and a banana waffle. Then we came back for a final farewell to the wonderful luxury of the Tri Yaan Na Ros and got picked up by minibus to take us to Chiang Kong and the Laos border.

Cows on the Mekong, LaosCrossing into Laos was one of those bizarre exercises in Asian chaotic organisation which seems, somehow, to work surprisingly well. We’d booked a kind of arranged trip to get us to Luang Prabang. Five hours to get to the Boom house Guest House on the border where instead of arriving for breakfast at 6am we arrived at 3am but got given a really cheap and fairly nice room so I managed to get a welcome four hours sleep. After breakfast we were taken down to the Thai immigration, got stamped out of the country, then across the river in a tiny boat to the somewhat chaotic immigration for Laos on the far shores. Despite the numbers of tourists milling around and filling in forms, changing currencies and crowding around the booths it was only about 35 minutes to get a visa and the entry passport stamped before a few of us were relaxing in a cafe up the road before the slow boat was due to leave.

Views down the Mekong, LaosThere are two ways to get from this border at Huay Xai to Luang Prabang, a speed boat or a slow boat and I am pretty glad we opted for the slow one. The speed boats zoom down the river dodging huge rocky outcrops and the occupants, beside getting sprayed, have to wear crash helmets, apparently when they do crash it tends to be the kind of head on collision with a rock or another speed boat where the survivors number 0, crash helmets or not! Our slow boat was a long brightly coloured wooden boat with bench seats, a well stocked bar at the back and it was carrying about 80 passengers, so fairly crowded, and pretty much all farang(tourists). The Mekong is a beautiful river, a wide flowing silty river that cut through scenery of forested limestone hills, high white sandy banks with jagged outcrops of rock protruding from the edges of the river banks. We saw the occasional herds of black and pink (!) buffalo grazing on the shores, fishermen drifting by in long thin wooden boats, their nets suspended from the rocks, and small groups of children playing in the water by the banks of tiny bamboo villages on stilts tucked away within the trees. We sat with bottles of very drinkable BeerLao and watched the scenery roll past.

James boarding our boat at Pak Beng, LaosWe spent the night in a little rustic stop over village, full of guest houses,  called Pak Beng and were thankful that our guide had got us to pre book a room back at the border crossing, as a small group of us were taken out of the throng of locals, farang and rucksacks and went up the hill to the Boun Mee Guest House which was basic but nice with a wide wooden terrace over looking the now darkening Mekong. Ben and Ronnie, an English couple we’d been chatting to on the boat came down and Ben’s usual blond afro was considerably larger than it had been during the day. In trying to get the lights to work in their room he’d flicked a breaker and been thrown across the room by an electric shock. Luckily he didn’t seem to worse for the wear and the owners found them a less deadly room for the night. Locals on the Mekong, LaosThe next day we continued for about 7 hours down the river, by now my bottom was getting a little sore, despite the cushions and I was hugely thankful when we finally arrived in Luang Prabang. I also realised that I am getting old. A small group of 21 year old Brits, Aussies and Americans were rowdily doing beer bongs at the back of the boat and having the most inane conversations I have ever heard. There is a limit to how often the word ‘like’ should be used in a sentence, certainly not as every other word! James’s all time favourite quote from one of the American guys to one of the British guys was:

“Didn’t you guys like just have a war with Argentina?”

Enough said! I am too old to be hanging out with 21 year old travelling piss heads anymore. James says I am turning into a travelling snob. Well with 46 countries, 4 months in India and having been away for 11 months I think I have earned the right to take the backpacking high ground. However, I think he maybe right!

Port sunset in Luang Prabang, LaosLuang Prabang is lovely, relaxed, picturesque, friendly and really laid back. The buildings are small and wooden with sloping roofs, potted plants and small balconies and the whole old part of the town is just ridiculously, charmingly cute. We wondered around a little last night after finding a cute guest house opposite the banks of the Mekong. We had a really cheap and really gorgeous dinner (I had Laos aubergine, chicken and bean noodle soup, James had a cheese burger!) along the main street of restaurants before having a few beers in a small bar and heading home to bed. This morning we’ve just been wondering around the streets, long the river side and visiting a beautiful old Buddhist temple called Wat Xieng Thong. There are brightly robed monks walking about everywhere, in fact they are even in the internet cafes checking their emails!

belaying, blood suckers and beer

Rock climbingThis has definitely been the week of extreme sports for me! I was so pleased to finally have my India visa and be able to book tickets to Pune, sort out trekking and generally get out of the limbo that I’d been in whilst waiting. Angela and Mat had decided to go rock climbing so, having a spare day before heading down to Pokara, and still feeling some of the invincibility from my bungee jump, I joined them. Unfortunately the day fell foul of the indeterminable Nepalese bureaucracy. The park we headed up to was closed when we arrived and apparently we had to wait for an official to arrive to check our guide’s paperwork. After 90 minutes of chatting to the army guards it became apparent that the person was not going to arrive that day so we headed off to another spot an hour away across the valley. Sadly this rock face was not handily by any kind of road, so after the taxi driver coaxed and swore his vehicle up the hill through the forest (we had to hop out for the steep bits), we had a very steep hour walk down the mountain side to reach the destination. This wasn’t helped by the fact Angela and I were in flip flops, our guide ran ahead leaving us with his side kick who also ran off at the end (to check out the path), leaving us stuck for 20 minutes, and also the fact that the place was swarming with blood sucking leeches! So eventually at about 4pm, six hours after leaving Thamel, we finally arrived.

 The girlsWe just set up two different short climbs as neither Angela nor myself had been climbing outside before. It was good though and fragments of memory came back from my days climbing walls in London. I was a little wary of sticking my hands into all the nooks and crannies on the wall, especially after a very large lizard slid out of one just after we first arrived! Back in Thamel I went to visit Kirsty, a fellow Alpha dosser from my Raleigh trekking in Chile. Despite the fact she lives in Edinburgh, the first time we meet up in nearly six years, is on the other side of the world in Kathmandu. She is about to start work in a mountain clinic on the Annapurna Circuit for twelve weeks. So I had dinner with her, her boyfriend Liam, a Nepalese guy, Rabi and a friend of hers, John, who buys Tibetan singing bowls and Thanka art to sell on eBay. Then I went to meet Angela and Mat and we ended up in the only place in Thamel open after midnight, drinking shots called Acid Rain and managed to run into one of our rafting guides and my Australian friend Kirstin from Pokara. So by the end of the night I felt rather tipsy and that everyone in Kathmandu was now my best friend, including the barman who even played the Rolling Stones for us! I had of course, forgotten that my bus was leaving at 6.30am. I had two hours sleep before a very sweaty bus ride 8 hours down to Pokara! So now it’s just us girls, Andrea, Angela and myself here. Mat was supposed to be in Delhi today but on our night out drinking, managed to stub his foot and after we left he went to the hospital and it turns out it’s broken! So he is still in Nepal until he can get a cast done! Meanwhile, due to Andrea’s excellent Tibetan (she’s been working there for a few months for Amnesty International), the three of us were drinking tea with monks in the Tibetan settlement outside Pokara! And tomorrow I leave for Annapurna Base Camp so shall be out of touch with the online world for 12 days, possibly my longest time off line in a good five years! Oh, and mainly for Angela’s benefit I have written a translation page from English English to American English so she can decifer my apparent humorous use of expressions and words that just don’t exist in America. And don’t get me started on the pronunciation thing. It turned out whilst playing drinking games that the yanks refused to accept that yawn and corn rhymed. Well they do if you pronounce them properly people!

the twists and turns of fate

It’s funny how things can work out quite unexpectedly; from an annoying situation to possibly the most entertaining three days I’ve had yet in Asia!

Monday morning, 6am I rock up to the Indian embassy to find there is nobody there. I get given the no. 1 token and told to return at 9am. So I go have breakfast, come back when the office opens and so get to be right at the front of the queue. Only it turns out this is not yet the application part, I have to fill out a telex form which is sent to the UK  Indian embassy for clearance then I come back in three days to apply for the visa. So I walk back to Thamel extremely annoyed as my trekking plans have now gone up in smoke and I have days to kill in Kathmandu. An hour later I have gone and booked myself on a trip out to a safari tent style resort near the tibetan border called The Last Resort to have a day relaxing and then a day’s rafting. I’ve also run into a Kiwi guy called Waz I met on the bus in the guesthouse and he’s invited me to come for a ride on his motorbike he’s just rented, around the Kathmandu valley and up to a view point called Nagarkot. Waz in Bhaktapur 

So we head off out of the city with me holding on with one arm and attempting to map read on the back (and we all know how much of a sense of direction I don’t have!) and eventually we make it out onto the highway and head to Bhaktapur. Having last been here for the craziness of the Cow festival it was nice to walk around in the peace and quiet. We had lunch overlooking the temples in Durbar Square before heading up the long and winding road, through villages and terraces of rice paddies up to Nagarkot, where we sat drinking lemon sodas and eating apple crumble overlooking a beautiful view. Back in Kathmandu Waz took me out to Thamel’s premier steakhouse. Where they get the meat from in a country where the cow is sacred is beyond me! It was, however, fantastic steak, beautifully cooked and Waz is a lovely guys, runs trekking trips, rafting trips etc mainly in South America, in the three countries I want most to go back and visit; Venezuala, Colombia and Ecuador!

Bungee BridgeTuesday morning I head off at the ungodly hour of 5.45am with about 40 other backpackers to The Last Resort. Most people it turns out are here for the day to go bungee jumping as the resort is reached by a 160m high suspension bridge over a stunning deep canyon. Nutters I think. Now I have no problem with heights but bungee jumping has never appealed to me in the slightest. I get chatting to a few people and end up going to see the first group do their jumps and to take a few photos. Twenty jumps later I still think the whole idea is utterly ridiculous and have no plans to join the other group. About half an hour after lunch, however, a treacherous thought pops into my mind that maybe if I go back to Kathmandu without doing a bungee jump I will spend the rest of the trip regretting it. Wondering if it is covered by my travel insurance, the thought occurs that actually, if something goes wrong, I’m not going to be needing the travel insurance! Angela, my new American friend finally pushes me over the edge as I bring the subject up, and the next thing I know I’ve handed over 75 US dollars and am getting weighed before heading out to the bridge with the last two jumpers. On the bridge I feel pretty calm, they put on the harness, the sky is blue, flecked with white clouds, the river churning away 160m below me, I stand on the edge, excited and totally fine. Then I jump.

The Last ResortFor the next 30 seconds my blood curdling screams of total unadulterated terror rang around the canyon. I have never been so scared in my whole entire life. The second my feet left that platform and I felt myself just falling into oblivion, I was certain, beyond all doubt, all reason and all logic that I was falling to my death. Even after the cord pulled me up again I was still screaming.I didn’t in fact stop screaming until I began to be lowered down to the bottom, and only once I was lying and getting unhooked, did I finally accept that, maybe, I wasn’t going to die after all. It was brilliant, and incredible and I am so, so glad that I did the jump and now I never, ever want to do one again! Of course I had to by the DVD, seriously it was priceless, everyone else’s had them silent or whooping with exhilaration. Everyone listened to mine and said, Wow, you sounded really, really scared!

After a shower to wash away the stench of fear soaked into the sweat of my clothes, I ended up in the bar sitting on low cushions in the lovely surroundings of the Last Resort with my new found American friends; Angela, Andrea, Mat and Eric. We did the only sensible thing you can do after jumping off a 160m high suspension bridge, we got drunk! From 5pm to midnight there was a lot of drinking, drinking games, more drinking games and finally we all peeled off to our safari style tents with oil lamps to get some sleep before rafting the next day.

Eric and MatRafting, it transpires is an excellent hangover cure. We had our own raft called Bad Seed and after getting briefed on all the rafting commands we head off down the churning Bhote Kosi. For the next three hours we paddled, paddled faster, soared up and over white foaming waves, avoided the holes and sped over the rapids. Really good fun and really (this word is coming in for a spot of abuse) exhilarating!

Back in Kathmandu I went to the Indian embassy this morning to find my telex came back okayed and everything went through without so much as a question. I pick the visa up this afternoon which is such a huge relief. So now I am heading down to Pokara with the American girls (maybe after a spot of rock climbing!) and finally sorting out my trekking into the Himalayas!

good things come to those who wait

Long Distance Clara goes flying
So it’s about 11.30am, I’m sitting at Cuchi Corral, a lookout point high up over the valley about 9km west of La Cumbre. For the next two and half hours I drink mate and sit enjoying the sunshine waiting for a thin length of nylon attached on top of a stick to change direction so that it blows away from the edge of the ledge. Around about 2pm the material begins to flutter in all directions and then, finally, the winds change direction and start to blow into the hillside. And why, you ask, am I aimlessly waiting for the winds to change? Because now, I can go paragliding.

Fifteen minutes later I am strapped into my harness seat, my instructor Fecho is strapped into his and attached to me and behind us, spread out on the ground, is a huge orange and white parachute attached to us via hundreds (it seems) of brightly coloured ropes. Suddenly a guy in front is pulling my harness and we are running down the slope, the wind catches under the chute and pulls us up, higher and higher until we are soaring over the valley far above the heads of those below. “¿Vale la peina?” (Is it worth it?) says Fecho behind me. “Si, si, si!” I reply grinning like an idiot. “Vale la Peina!”
Paragliding in La Cumbre
Flying was amazing, really indescribly, wonderfully, breath-takingly amazing. There is enough wind to keep you circling over the valley, twisting and turning above the trees, indefinitely. Once you are airbourne nothing else matters. I forgot that I hadn’t eaten breakfast, that I sort of needed the toilet, that I have another overnight bus journey tonight, everything but the sensation of gliding through the air. I was so preoccupied I even forgot to be annoyed that George Bush is still president, that is the magic of flying! I don’t think I’ve fully come back down to earth yet.

boca juniors vs racing

A whippet daemon, I ask you? I just tried out the new website for the Phillip Pulman film and you answer several questions to determine what kind of animal your daemon is. Now I’m not saying I was holding out for an eagle, lion or anything massively impressive, but a whippet! I don’t really care that it means I’m modest, outgoing, inquisitive and sociable, it’s a bloody whippet!

Anyway, enough of Daemons. Back to reality. The football on Sunday was brilliant. It wasn’t the greatest display of footballing skills I’ve ever seen, but for the atmosphere, the Boca stadium, La Bombanero, is fantastic. The stalls are ridiculously steep. This is certainly not the place for football fans suffering from vertigo. Although it does mean that you feel like you’re right on top of the pitch. Diego Maradonna’s official look-a-like came out for a tour of the pitch to much applause and chanting (the real one is in hospital again!) When the Boca team came out we were handed handfuls of cut up newspaper which everyone threw into the stadium and for a few seconds the air was full of fluttering paper like confetti. From the stands they threw white streamers onto the pitch and the air was full of cheering and whistling. Once play started I don’t think the singing stopped at any point during the match. And everytime Boca made an attack on the goal everyone would jump up and you could feel the stadium shaking under your feet. At half time Racing were 1-0 up and things were not looking too good. But after the break Boca came out guns-a-blazing and had soon equalised and then a penalty took them 2-1 into the lead. After which they sat back a little enjoying the goaly’s time wasting and seemed content with a victory. Sadly Racing had other ideas, and a late push forced a bad tackle from a defender in the box and they were awarded a penalty in the 85th minute. They scored. The Racing stand at the far end went completely mental and for once the Boca drums were ominously silent. So it was 2-2 in the end but still a really good experience. I can see why they don’t allow alcohol in the stadium, the fans are pretty full on with just the coffee and cola. Whenever the referee made any decision against Boca everyone around us would leap to their feet yelling “puto, puto” down at the pitch and from what I gather, we were in the posh seats!

This is my final week at school and Craig and I have a lovely teacher called Florencia. We are now having to learn the subjuntivo, es necesario que coma mucho helado en Buenos Aries! Craig has somehow convinced me that taking a 20 hour bus ride with him to Bariloche on Saturday will be more fun that flying down there on Sunday. Well the seats do recline to 165 degrees and look pretty cushy, so we’ll see. The fact that this means he has to spend 20 hours on a bus next to me doesn’t appear to have sunk in yet!

This afternoon, after conversation class, in which I had the role of a 50 year old woman whose husband of twenty six years had just left me and my sons for a another man, I caught a bus down to La Boca. La Boca is a slightly poorer, moderately dodgy barrio that has a very touristy but pretty area of streets around Caminito. It’s where many of the European immigrants to the city painted their houses bright colours and the original street and surrounding ones have now become somewhat of an open air museum in Buenos Aires. I walked around, took loads of photos and then went to visit the nearby museum of a famous Argentian artist who lived in La Boca, called Benito Quinquela whose paintings and sketches strove to capture the everyday life and toils of the barrio in the first half of the twentieth century. And I’m now running late to go meat friends for a Milonga show in Barrio Norte, mierda!