About This Blog

Memories of my travels between 1972 and 1982

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

December 29th: Hikkaduwa

On December 29th 1981 I was in Hikkaduwa in Southern Sri Lanka. 

Beach at Hikkaduwa:  My picture
I liked to hole up somewhere like a beach over Christmas and New Year.  This time I chose Hikkaduwa, a good strand of beach and a long strip of tourist shops and restaurants.  I rented a room from a woman who seemed to be a single mother and I think she was well pleased with my contribution.  But walking outside the town the atmosphere often turned quickly sour and it was clear that many people resented the foreign invasion.

Between Christmas and New Year I made a trip by bus to Galle, a larger town nearby.  I wrote this in my journal in the evening:
Galle:  My picture
I went to Galle today, which made a nice break.  A few too many tourist hustlers, a dead pangolin in the Dutch canal, as stinking as the Dutch canals In Jakarta, some picturesque areas around the market where I took a couple of snaps.  The hustle and bustle of a South Asian town - so much still being moved by bullock-cart, some shops full of things I associate with the area, hardware, pottery, basket ware.  And then the fort, with its quiet old world atmosphere.  I entered through the old gate with its fine UK coat of arms in stone relief facing the harbour, then there was the square with the courts with banyan shade and lots of little advocates' offices.  Then I sat on the wall in the shade and peace, watching souvenir sellers and tourists near a hotel, two cheap travellers being carted off on a bullock-cart but shooing away the seller of miniature fishing boats.
Another day I went by bicycle with a friend inland to Baddegama, and everyone seemed friendly.  We stopped at a really poor man's shack for tea and later had excellent tea and cakes in the old-fashioned "hotel", really restaurant or cafe, in Baddegama.  We looked at irrigation works built by the Chinese, and visited a Buddhist temple with an enormous statue, a fine bo-tree and a friendly monk.  However we did another trip by bicycle to the coast around the town of Ambalangoda, but we quickly found that the local people were not so keen on the cheap foreign visitors there.  Not feeling welcome we hurried back.

Galle Market:  My picture

Hikkaduwa:  My picture
Patrimonium Mundi:  Panoramas of Galle Fort
Fishermen at Hikkaduwa:  My picture

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Saturday, 25 December 2010

December 25th: Margao in Goa

On December 25th 1972 I was in Margao in Goa.  I think we'd expected Christmas in Goa to be a matter of relaxation and swimming, but it turned into non-stop socialising.

Earlier in the week we were in Margao looking for car parts and were stopped in the street by a Finnish woman who noticed the SF sign painted on our roof-box.  She was married to a Goan man and living in Margao and they kindly invited us to Christmas lunch.  This turned out to be a most sumptuous affair, a roast suckling pig (possu) stuffed with all sorts of goodies and washed down with cashew fenny and wine.  Our hosts had a son about eight years old; he spoke Finnish with his mother, Portuguese with his father, English with the two of them together, Konkani with the other kids around, and Marathi formally in school; he was also learning Hindi as the national language and had just started French as a first foreign language;  he would start a sentence in one language, switch to another and then tail off into a third.

There was no question of going back to the spot between Baga Beach and Calangute where we'd been staying after all the food and alcohol, so we went out to a bar for more fenny before coming back to our friends to stay the night.  The next day we made a quick visit to the then empty expanses of Colva beach, had another go at the possu for lunch, and then set off back north.  The ferry across the river had a long queue so we took the scenic route through the hills, through Ponda and the Hindu villages and got to Mapusa around dusk, still in time for our next engagement.

One of the addresses we'd been given in Bombay turned out to be a judge and we were announced at his office earlier in the week as "two hippies to see you".  He turned out to be charming, when he realised we had not been arrested, and invited us for Boxing Day supper.  We were treated to vindaloos of prawns and duck as genuine as I am likely to find anywhere and an appearance by Father Christmas.  We managed to drive back to our spot on the beach in the dark.

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Friday, 24 December 2010

December 24th: Cuzco

On December 24th 1975 I was in Cuzco.

Christmas was a social time in Cuzco.  I stayed with a group of French speakers, mainly from Montreal.  I enjoyed speaking French with friends and then Spanish out in the streets, and both languages developed well.  I tried the restaurants, spent a lot of time at the market where there were excellent fruit juices and chicken soup.  At other times I enjoyed hanging out in the Plaza de Armas, which was always lively in the evening when everyone came out to walk in Mediterranean fashion to meet and be met.  People set up stalls in the arcades serving things like cake and ponche (a punch made with eggs and pisco); the arcades provided shelter in this season against the rain and any cold at night.

We did a few of the sights but leisurely, up to Sacsayhuaman one day and a full day out in Pisac for the market and a good walk about.  In Pisac I was struck by the straight streets with cobbles and a sewer channel down the middle, the church and the terraces beyond.  As we were waiting  for a truck to return to Cuzco, a group of Mormons in their plain black suits were playing frisbee in the main market area, while the local people went about their business rather more brightly dressed.

Plaza de Armas, Cuzco:  My picture taken in 1986
Christmas Eve was the climax of Christmas activity on the streets, especially in the afternoon when there were thousands of people out, many in fine ponchos or traditional dress.  Many new food stalls were set up and special ones with moss with nativity scenes, pottery stalls and other crafts for people looking for gifts.

Part of the francophone ideal was a special meal for Christmas.  A restaurant was chosen as being small and personal and having food which was not just the everyday sort but still not fancy.  The menu was agreed the day before.  When we turned up at 9pm on Christmas Eve the meal was very Peruvian and the service a bit strange.  There was melting ice-cream with chocolate on the table served when we arrived, which was not what was expected.  We did not manage much of this but the stuffed duck that followed made up for this.  Then it was a fish course and an apple dish to finish.  Then it was out to the square for a ponche and a stroll.
Plaza de Armas, Cuzco:  My picture taken in 1986

Food in Cuzco Market:  My picture taken in 1986

December 24th: Anjuna Beach

On December 24th 1978 I was on Anjuna Beach in Goa.

For the period up to Christmas and New Year I stayed in a fishing family's house on the beach in Colva in southern Goa.  The house had white-washed walls, shuttered windows, a red-tiled roof and a large colony of geckos.  The fishermen were Konkani-speaking and Christian.   I wanted to stay in Colva as it was quieter than the beaches in the north, with fewer freaks and basket cases, and the beach was huge.  Colva village was along a road parallel to the beach, a quiet place among the palms and paddy-fields; but I was happy enough among the houses that lay right up against the sand.  There were a few restaurants and shops near the bus stand and a cafe by the turning to the village and that was it.   Not that the locals were all against development.  The owners of my house were pleased with the Christmas bonanza and were using the proceeds to put up new rooms with sanitation opposite the house, and had the first customers in before I left.

The house had a kitchen space with a cooker and I used to go into Margao every other day or so to buy fresh vegetables to make stews to feed myself and others.  The market there was old and covered and felt like the perfect combination of India and Portugal.  The bus to town wandered among the little villages near the coast, all with little churches and Portuguese names.  Benaulim was the next village south along the coast, a pleasant walk, a couple of shacks selling soft drinks on the beach and a small resort which remained mysteriously closed.

I went up north for Christmas Eve, walking down the coast and ending up at Anjuna Beach for the Christmas party.  In the late afternoon people were arriving from all quarters.  I met Indians from Bangalore and sadhus from Benares and Europeans comparing doses of acid.  Coolies were bringing down the band's equipment and some of the villagers were preparing the catering.  After dark everyone congregated on the sand in their various groups.  The band, semi-resident Westerners, played sets interspersed with records but I did not recognise much of the music.  Some people danced near the band, some of them naked, some people circulated for food; but most just stayed in their groups.  Near me there was a Bom Shankar group with chillums and tridents, and a baba who was doing a fire-eating turn.  An Indian man playing the film star sat on a raised dais with hurricane lamps, with swarms of fawning attendants and a blonde English woman giggling - a super-present arrived in the early hours with huge showy congratulations.  There was a colourfully dressed group with beautiful people heavily made-up, doing coke and making a lot of noise.  Another group of newly arrived Americans had coke and other drugs I did not recognise.  Men and women freaked on acid stumbled about in the darkness.  I watched a European  thief at work sizing up a group of rich beautiful people.

The next morning I walked down the coast to Calangute where I had my Christmas lunch, on fresh tuna, chips and salad, before looking for a bus back south.

Anjuna Beach in 2007:  Picture by Roshan Sam, CC

Colva Beach in 2005:  Picture by Elroy Serrao, CC

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

December 21st: Arequipa in Southern Peru

On December 21st 1975 I was in Arequipa in southern Peru.  It was a brief visit, a one night stop-over.  I had been delayed in Lima by bronchitis, brought on in that city of perpetual light mist and no rain to wash away the urine from the pavements.  Like everyone else in Peru I was anxious to get to my Christmas place, Cuzco in my case, before the transport dried up completely. 

I had arrived on the overnight bus from Lima and we were still by the sea when it got light.  I had fresh figs for breakfast in the hot sleepy town of Camana.  We began climbing not too long after, heading up through a real desert which gradually became strewn with rocks.  It was barren all the way until the green of the Arequipa valley, with grey brown hills around.  The valley was high and bright.  The sunset was beautiful with haze and a rainbow and views of the mountains ringing the valley.

In the morning I visited the Santa Catalina Convent, which had been fairly recently restored and opened to the public, although a small area was still reserved for nuns.  It was an unusual place, a miniature town rather than a building, a little world of streets and squares and houses, a town separated from the world outside but strangely similar to it.  I remember one little plaza with orange trees and a huge kitchen and washing place. 

Arequipa also had a large covered market, the best I'd seen in Latin America so far.  There was one huge room and a lot of Indian activity.  I recorded this in my notebook:
Arequipa Market, 2009:  Picture by Walter Fuentes, CC
I've come into the quiet middle class cafe Astoria to escape the hubbub of the market.  Tremendous activity, the confirmation of my idea yesterday that the Indian life here is essentially different from Ecuador.  The huge hall, full of fruit, eggs, meat, butter and everything else that makes up a market, great juices.  Music from records.  Outside street after street lined with ladies in large bright skirts and hats; one group with blue aprons and blue-banded straw hats making rubber sandals.  Girls sitting with their mothers or aunts, babies behind in a colourful shawl, pulling on the black braid.  People selling and chewing coca.  Many herbal remedies.  Some men already drunk, one man in complete rags, and a lot in very poor thin clothing.
I was down to the railway station by late afternoon for the night train to Cuzco where a friend had kept seats.  With the train due to leave at 10pm, it was already crowded at 6pm.  All the corridors and the floors in the compartments were full, mostly with Indian women whose huge skirts covered the floor.  A flood of urine gradually rose to the level of the duck boards and I looked forward to a difficult night's journey.  However when we got going the floor dried out; I tried to look out of the window through the darkness into very deserted barren scenery.  It got light before the lakes and life was better when I found some coffee.  There was a long stop at Juliaca, changing around the carriages, and we were less crowded afterwards.  At first the scenery was very bleak with little adobe villages, cows and llamas, and barren hills behind.  Then we climbed through fine hills with a snow covered backdrop and more llamas.  After the summit the valley was richer, green and well cultivated, with winding villages of adobe often with red tiled roofs.  The people on the train were friendly and a group of travelling musicians were playing huaynos, the wistful popular music of the highland Indians. 

Santa Catalina, 2007:  Picture by dachalan, CC
Santa Catalina, 2005:  Picture by Adam Jones, CC

                 More information on the Santa Catalina Convent here.

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Sunday, 19 December 2010

December 19th: Wellawaya in Sri Lanka

On December 19th 1981 I was in Wellawaya in southern Sri Lanka. 

Wellawaya:  My picture
Wellawaya was a crossroads on the road between the mountains around Nuwara Elliya and the south coast.  It was a curious place to be a travellers' stop over, as it had no real monuments, no bank to change money and so on, but it was near a National Park.  I was looking for a change of bus but there was nothing immediate.  I noticed a family guesthouse which was a common place for tourists to stay: the food was typically a bit bland but there was a restaurant in town and there were other travellers around.  Above all it was warm and not raining.  On this day I walked out of town to a hill and wrote this in my notebook:
On top of the rock where there is a little stupa in white, a shrine with a variety of fairly crude Buddhist images and a bell nearby.  At the foot of the hill is a little temple, low key as seems normal here, a shaven monk pulling on his cigarette, an old man and a school-pen-boy, who pointed me the way up the steep rock-face.

The sun shines hot at last, clouds spread from the north though rain seems mercifully at least a few hours away.  The wind beats around the hill mainly from the east, great fun for the swallows, occasionally a swift, a falcon or a shikra.  Around me I can see two low ranges of hills on either side, almost  covered with thick jungly trees and a few stretches of bare rock.  Beyond the distant town and stretching north are the major bulk of the  mountains with green slopes higher up and a waterfall almost in line with the just visible water tower in town.  A gap to the south looks flat, the plains stretching away to the horizon.  Nearby I can see the brighter green of paddy-fields, the lighter green of maize or vegetable plots, shade trees and banana bushes.  The houses are of all sorts: thatched roof, mud and wattle walls look the most traditional, but I can also see tin roofs and red tile roofs, and one tiled roof house is built of new concrete.  There are thatch shelters in some of the fields.
Another day I went with friends to the lake, or Handapanagala Tank as it is called.  We took a bus down to the turning along the Hambantota road and walked down to the lake.  We then crossed the water in a thin dugout with a single outrigger, between sunken trees, and pelicans, cormorants and terns.  On the other side we looked down side streams, which was very attractive with herons, egrets, peacocks, and monkeys in the trees, and one or two crocodiles.  Then we settled on a big rock overlooking the buffalo, with kingfishers and bee-eaters and an osprey, but no elephant came.  Eventually we paddled back, had tea and waited for the return bus in the bungalow on the other side.

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December 19th: Wulu in Southern Sudan

On December 19th 1980 I was in Wulu in Southern Sudan on the last leg of my Christmas holiday journey. 

This holiday journey:     Rumbek to Tambura           Tambura to Yambio         Yambio to Rumbek 

I had found a truck in Mundri to take me close to Rumbek.  Unfortunately the truck was bound for Wau and was taking the direct track to Tonj and not passing through Rumbek.  We stopped for the night in Wulu, twenty miles or so south of Rumbek, and I spent the night soundly asleep on the veranda of the police-station. 

The truck had been almost empty and I had tried to sit up on top of the cab for a seat and the best view, but the driver was hell-bent on getting to Wau in record time and eventually I took my bruises back to my usual spot over the wheel-arches.  We passed through thin forest with antelope and baboons and little population.  The country around Yeri was more populated, the people I think Moro.  After Mvolo it was dark, and the forest became much thicker, the road much rougher.  The passengers looked out, calling out in various languages the names of any animals, such as cats and jackals, a hyena and honey badgers, and the tribal affiliation of any people we saw, mainly Jur-Bel and some Dinka.  We took on a Jur-Bel hunting party who were going to Wulu, where we arrived exhausted about 8.30.

Wulu was scarcely a town, just a few single story buildings set a round a wide open space.  I woke about 5am when the truck left and I wondered what to do: I'd bought a load of fresh fruit, a precious commodity and I was reluctant to lose it.  I went to pay a courtesy call on the Dutch nurses who had their base in Wulu.  Elie was inspiring to talk to, homely and business-like at the same time, treating a large number of Dinka, who always preferred the nurses' clinics to the hospital in Rumbek.  She offered to drop some of my stuff at my house when she next passed so that I could walk to Rumbek, and I quickly decided to take her up on this.  I wrote this description of the walk when I got back to my house.
The walk was fine.  I stopped for tea in Lol Cuk, a Dinka village about an hour's walk on.  I was always trying to push ahead which I expect was right.  There was a long forest area near the road junction where I saw an augur buzzard and a couple of Jur with bows and metal-tipped arrows.  I stopped for welcome lunch amidst flies and silence.  I was constantly afraid I was making too little progress.  The next settlement under some mango-trees seemed like a Jur prison camp, the people were hostile and jeering and I felt discouraged.  But I sat down for an orange after a toich section and felt better when I started again.  I was singing out loud.  When I got to Maloe there was an army truck.  13 miles in less than 4 hours.
After Yambio I had taken a crowded but entertaining truck to Maridi.  There was a travelling Nigerian magician on board, with snakes and drums and other effects including a heavy act he turned on late in the day to frighten the other passengers; his travelling companion just shrugged her shoulders under the black shawl she wore - she had a particularly striking face with dark deep cheek scars.  In Maridi I again had to spend two nights before I got out, but here there was the side attraction of a ridge of low hills which meant I was able to get out to a little solitude and altitude.  I wrote this in my notebook.
Village near Maridi:  My Picture
How wonderful to have discovered an accessible hill.  I saw the ridge last night in the dying sunlight and this morning's plan was immediately formed in my head.  It worked OK although I had occasional misgivings as I couldn't believe any trail in Africa would lead where I wanted to go.  The ridge remained before me as a goal and I managed to find a route through lovely huts with red-earth beaten compounds hidden amongst banana patches.  Then I was on a jeep trail around the teak forest and suddenly a gap, the words "open country" sprang into my mind, so that I had to cry them out loud.

Mist in the Valley at Maridi:  My picture
Up here it's like a chain of dome-shaped tors, four or five I think, hard rock patches and loose stones, little clumps of tufty moss like grass are the main vegetation, plus some short grass and occasional small trees. The birds are larks, wheatears and kites.  Mostly around I can see planted teak forest but straight ahead from where I sit now is an open patch of farmland, durra and bananas and mango trees, cassava I'm sure, cocks still crowing and odd voices and bangings and clappings.  The birds below fly in winter flocks.  A kite flies around and over me as if to attack.  Beyond is rolling country with just a couple of hills, still some mist in the low valleys, but it's mostly giving way to haze.  The countryside looks more like wooded savannah than the equatorial forest of Zandeland, even if the equatorial forest there has been slashed and burnt.  But it's much bushier and thicker than Rumbek which was looking very brown and dusty when I left two weeks ago.
I continued a bit further along. 
On The Ridge at Maridi:  My picture
I am now on the last hill of the main chain, there's a metal/stone pillar to mark that peak, maybe the highest of the chain.  I know it's not much in the way of hills but I haven't been able to look down on things much recently.  A good wind is blowing from the north, giving nice air for kites and hobbies and other birds of prey.  To the south is Maridi, stretched out, so many different complexes and I can't make out the souk or the hill I was on last night, not for sure anyway.  But I can see the trail I'll take back to town.  I'm on rocks at the end which are almost steep, and short trees which have shed their leaves and contain one or two beehives, long thin ones wrapped in straw.  Voices of children come up from the durra and papaya trees.  It's very peaceful up here.

From Maridi to Mundri I took a bus from the Karim Bus Company, which travelled fast and furiously along the gravel road.  A bus was completely unexpected and I spoke with one of the family of the owners.  They were Ugandan Asians from Arua and refugees to Kenya from Idi Amin.  They ran buses from Nairobi to Western Province and had brought four vehicles to Juba, running three routes to Torit, Yei and Maridi.  The Maridi route had only been running for a month and was doing so at a loss because local people thought it too expensive and not for them.  I did not see further evidence of these buses in Juba when I went there later.

Maridi:  My picture

Friday, 17 December 2010

December 17th: Bijapur

On December 17th 1972 I was in Bijapur in India. 

The day before we had driven across a big river into Karnataka, still called Mysore State then, and so we were now officially in South India.  Bijapur was just a place to stop over really, but it is one of those towns in India which is full of ancient monuments and makes a good place to look around.  We drove in to a fine sunset over the old domed buildings, an auspicious start.  We found a place to stay outside the Circuit House where the Christian caretaker and his daughter offered to cook us excellent food.   The town had remains of a Muslim dynasty from the 16th and 17th centuries.  The Gol Gumbaz was a tomb with a huge dome and remarkable sound and echo properties, especially up in the Whispering Gallery, and an interesting museum with porcelain books and a Sufi guide to the body.  The Jama Mashid had an ornate prayer niche which was the only decoration that remained.  It was good to walk about this town through the back streets which had ruins at every corner.

Since climbing up over the Western Ghats from Bombay to Ajanta and Ellora, we had been driving across the plateau known as the Deccan.  This remains in my mind as the most characteristic Indian scenery.  The country was not densely populated, but open and sometimes rugged. You would drive along and every fifty or seventy miles the road would rise or fall by a hundred feet or so.  I loved driving these roads.

Gol Gumbaz in 2007, Picture by Jasvipul Chawla, CC

Jama Mashid in 2007, Picture by Jasvipul Chawla, CC

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Thursday, 16 December 2010

December 16th: Yambio in Southern Sudan

On December 16th 1980 I was in Yambio in Southern Sudan. 

This holiday journey:       Rumbek to Tambura        Tambura to Yambio       Yambio to Rumbek 

My Christmas holiday was now more than half way through and I was leaving the land of the Azande.  Yambio was a larger town with a mixed population.  I stayed in a bare, waterless room in an official teachers' house and had bedding on the floor supplied.  That afternoon I managed a walk out of town to a low rise tothe south, mainly in teak-forest where I saw black and white colobus monkeys, but I was tired and wanted to be on my own and there were always people aroiund

The teachers' house was near the market where I spent much of my time and once I recorded what I saw in my notebook:
Yambio Market:  My picture
Sitting outside the shade of a mango tree which serves as an outside cafe in the market area.  Several stalls sell chai laban (tea with milk) or coffee and little boys sit with tins of buns.  The clientele, mainly Dinka or Azande, sit in groups around a table or chairs or on the traditional wooden benches.  Dinka and Azande do not mix of course, there is mutual dislike and their styles of life are totally opposed; yet the Azande are a very tolerant people.  The Dinkas themselves are very mixed; a study of the way the clans mix together outside their areas would be interesting, or of what goes on in the cattle-camps in Zandeland.  Yet they are instantly recognisable, by their looks, their clothes, their bearing, their albeit mixed scars. 

Yambio Market:  My picture
The market is busy and bustling, the most active I've seen, with a distinct charm and character.  Yet it's far from picturesque with its shabby tin shacks, some painted corrugated iron, others concocted out of oil-cans, all stretching in haphazard lines.  There's a little brick vegetable stand in the middle with women clustered in groups around on the ground.  There are some Arab shops in brick around the outside with tin verandas and wooden doors.  The larger Arab merchant shops in red brick are on the main street.  Arab music plays from a radio at a tea-stand behind me.
After Tambura I had found an arabiya (truck) to take me to the Zande town of Ezo where I was stuck for a couple of nights as nothing was leaving.  The first night I was cold sleeping outside the police station, but as the second night approached I realised I was in an attractive place.  As I sat on the edge of town I wrote this in my notebook.
Another equatorial sunset; they are so long here with the haze, the sun gets red and it starts to get cool an hour before it dips below the horizon; only you don't see it dip - it's beginning to fade even now and probably I won't be able to see the moon again this evening.  The sun goes down away from the line of shops which constitutes the souk, where there is an open stretch of green with a few elm-shaped trees in a line.  Beyond there is thicker bush and a layer of mist which rises in a straight line.  I've never seen such sunsets before.

It's an idyllic sort of place, as it ought to be in such a spot, right on the border of the three remote countries of Central Africa, Zaire, The Central African Republic and Southern Sudan; to the right where the sun goes down is the Central African Republic, straight along the road is Zaire.

I took a lovely little stroll behind earlier to the spring at the water source, which is built like the one at Tambura only steeper, and then to the outskirts of town through the back lanes, there being a romantic  feeling of African perfection I haven't seen before; this is I suppose the most tropical I've seen it in Sudan, different trees and palms, even epiphytes, big blue butterflies and violets, the birds too have a different feel.  There is the prettiness of the Zande houses and huts around, and the greenness of it all.

And later:
Back in town it seemed the remotest place in the world, but then I met a student from the third year called Philip: before I'd only seen those I recognised from the truck I arrived on, mainly Arabs and the Kakwa game scout from Yambio.  It's getting darker, the swifts are flying, the midges coming, later maybe there will be bats and mosquitoes.  Three trucks are pulled up and there are quite a lot of people around, the clack of dominoes on the table behind, the players Dinka I think and one English speaking Shilluk.  Radio aloud with French and strange music by the couple of tea shops.  "Karkadeh" coos a dove, and a cock crows, and a cow moos.  Evening sounds, it could be an interesting night.

I stayed the night at Philip's house.  He was a mature 22 year old with a wife and 2 children.  He put me up in his guest house within the beaten earth compound.  Zande compounds are compact and Philip's felt more like a conservatory with plants all around and the separate "houses" more like rooms - guest house, kitchen house, latrine house and so on.  We sat and drank a Zairean beer and his wife served us a meal of meat and cassava leaves.  I managed a bath of sorts but got stung on the shoulder by a giant centipede while using the latrine and this hurt for days.  Earlier Philip had walked me around the town and the agricultural project area.  We drank a cassava and honey suku suku (spirit) and a honey beer which were much better than their Rumbek equivalents.

From Ezo I got a lift with Austrian Klaus, in the front of his Steyr truck, to Nzara where he was putting a generator into the agriculture produce factory which dates back to the British period.  I found Nzara a hole, more or less an industrial town, with people from all over mixed together; it seemed to mark the end of the pristine area from Wau to Ezo.  I had to wait overnight for a ride, but a student from Rumbek put me up in his parents' house, basically a hostel room related to the factory.  We ate cassava and pineapple and when I went to bed I heard on the radio, Voice of America, through the thin walls that John Lennon had died - killed I thought they said, but I couldn't be sure.

Friday, 10 December 2010

December 10th: Tambura in Southern Sudan

On December 10th 1981 I was in Tambura in Southern Sudan.  This was during the holiday while the school was closed for Christmas.

This holiday journey:     Rumbek to Tambura     Tambura to Yambio    Yambio to Rumbek 

Tambura was a small town of the Azande, a Bantu tribe, also found across the borders in Zaire (now Congo) and the Central African Republic.  I stayed at the Rest House, reserved for Government officials, including teachers.  The centre of the town, no more than a few houses and a market place, was along an open ridge looking down on the Zande villages.  On the way in I had seen a crashed plane on this ridge, probably a relic from the Civil War.   I recorded this day's activities in my journal.
Zandeland was best for the first 24 hours when I was still a new face in town.  The people are friendly, but more shy and distant than the Dinka.  I took a walk on a side road after breakfast, and felt again the peacefulness I've felt elsewhere in Africa, the people with friendly reserved smiles, their neat clean huts, round or rectangular, the latter seem almost like toy-town houses they are so perfectly symmetrical with their door and two windows.  No animals around except dogs, the cattle in town belong to wandering Dinka who also have a shelter behind the Unity Restaurant.  But when I reached the area of the next village and sat beneath a mango-tree for a breather, the people began to gather round me in some consternation, and I think they were genuinely frightened.  Rafael who had shown me the rest house the day before came by and rescued me, taking 32 oranges to the owner of the Unity restaurant ("Arab man") and they had a fight over the price which upset Rafael.

In the evening I walked around the mission and primary school, which was an idyllic spot with fine views and a long gorgeous sunset through the perpetual haze.  I talked with a carpenter while a sister practised Christmas songs, beautifully, in the church, and then I sat and gazed over the valleys rolling away, trees and trees for ever, and another crashed plane and it felt good.  Later sitting on the veranda of the guest-house I could hear drums and a small bow-harp being played.

Leaving Rumbek for my Christmas travel holiday was primarily about getting the right lift.  I met a Dutch aid worker who was going to Wau and so that is where I went without any specific plans.  I enjoyed the journey as this was my first chance for three months to see more than very local country.  I enjoyed the road which was easier to drive in the dry; we saw some animals including a fine bongo antelope.  We also saw some people in the forest who were definitely not Dinka, Bongo perhaps before Tonj, and after Tonj some men going hunting, who were short, wearing loin-cloths and carrying traps and snares made of wood and wire, with most handsome beadwork and very friendly waves and smiles towards us.

Dinka Cattle at Wau:  My picture
In Wau I spent a few nights at the Youth Hostel to take stock.  It was a sociable time with both holidaying teachers and passing travellers.   However this had a down side: all the teachers were teaching in the north and some clearly did not believe what I was saying about my school and its difficulties; I found myself defending the South and the southern people in the inevitable Sudan split.  I was happiest when I went to the Dinka souk and drank tea.  I spoke enough words of Dinka to communicate a bit now - I think the language was called Manjang.  One day I went for a walk on the far bank of the river across the bridge.  There was a calf who had got stuck in the mud and I helped the young Dinka retrieve it.  Arranging this and discussing his cattle in Dinka was very satisfying.

I travelled onwards to the south on the mail truck which was the nearest thing to public transport as it left on a (fairly) regular schedule, weekly I think.  It was crowded and the foreign travellers were whinging about the conditions.  We had a long wait at the Bussere ferry and then drove through forest and small Belanda settlements.  As evening came I saw more animals, such as hartebeest and waterbuck.  We had a chai stop and then an overnight stop at a village and I slept out under the stars.  In the morning, driving through hills, we had a stop for repairs by a very pretty set of rapids which I had to myself.  At Tambura I got off and found a room at the Rest House.  I was constantly complimented on the good exam results achieved by Rumbek the previous year, top in the whole South.   I knew these results had been reached via cheating and I think everyone else knew it, but the pretence was kept up in a formal way.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

December 4th: Cuenca in Ecuador

 On December 4th 1975 I was in the town of Cuenca in southern Ecuador.

Cuenca seemed a cold town to me, but that might have been my mood or just the weather.  I stayed in the market area, where there were few hotels or restaurants and no other tourists.  The town seemed unmodernised and the shops old-fashioned.  The market areas were interesting, with everything being sold, from guinea-pigs to rockets for fiestas, from good quality pottery and items made of straw.  I expected many Indians after the Indian areas the bus had passed through, and many Indians there were.

In the afternoon I went to the museum of Padre Crespi to see the artefacts described in Erich van Daniken's Gold of The Gods, published two years previously.  The Padre showed me round, an aged man with lank hair, straggly beard and a stained robe.  The collection of artefacts was amazing and bizarre, laid out higgledy-piggledy around the room, most of it gold and silver coloured; there were musical instruments, idols, dinosaur skins; most things had designs which might have been Pharaohs or had suns on them.  There was no real effort to say where or how the artefacts had been found.  Local peasants had simply brought them in I was told, and they were added to the collection.  It seemed to me that they brought in the sorts of things they thought the padre wanted.  I did see a fine collection of bottle tops and I don't know where they might have come from either.  It is interesting to see that people today still find the stuff interesting, here for example, with a picture of the Padre.

Padre Crespi with some artefacts:  Picture by Lakerae, CC

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

December 1st: Yogyakarta

On December 1st 1981 I was in Yogyakarta, the old cultural centre of central Java.  It was the rainy season and ash from a recent volcanic eruption caused the clouds to hang over the city for days on end.

On Top of Borobudur:  My picture
This was the day I visited Borobudur, the 9th Century Buddhist temple.  Even in the rain, even with the cranes and other signs of work being undertaken, even with the restricted access, even with the tourist trappings, the temple retains a great deal of majesty.  It is really a giant stupa, with terrace after terrace of sculpted friezes leading up to the airy platform above.  It is a wonderful conception, and the reliefs are  astounding, even if I could see only a portion of them.  I stole behind one of the No Entry signs and managed to see about a third of the second terrace which seems the finest and grandest, myths adapted to 9th Century Javanese ordinary life, with some magnificent ships for instance, and sitting through it all peaceful Buddhas.  In fact the statuary in general had a most peaceful and tranquil effect, as one has the right to expect from a Buddhist stupa.  Up on top one gets above the reliefs of the ordinary world to a platform where Buddhas (largely beheaded unfortunately) seem to float in their miniature stupas.  I sat for a good time looking over green fields to the ridge of hills opposite and soaked up some of the present energy.  The day before I had visited the Shiva temple of Prambanan which dates from a similar period.  Almost as impressive, with fine statues and realistic reliefs, it has a beautiful smooth Nandi and views beyond to the green of rice fields and coconut palms.

That night I went to a cultural performance as it was billed, of wayang kulit, the shows of shadow puppets accompanied by music, which is an important part of classical Javanese culture. It was interesting enough, though a little too static for enjoyment; most of the effects were in the fighting and were simple.  The music had interest as well and some of the singing was really good.  Just to see the puppets in action was the main thing.

Dancer at the Kraton:  My picture
The main part of old Yogya is the kraton, the Sultan's palace.  There are streets of traditional houses which are pretty and a market for caged birds which is picturesque and characteristic even if it was upsetting to see it.  I also took a tour one day of the kraton to watch the dancing rehearsals, which like the shadow puppets was interesting if not exactly fun.  The women's dances I found rather stilted and precious, small steps, most was in the gestures, the men's dances freer and with more movement, even some leaping in a fighting ritual.  The gamelan played by older men was good to listen to.  It was all very stately and courtly, men and women acting out their roles as if in the sultan's presence.

Finally I got away from Yogya and went to the little town of Parangtritis on the coast to the south.  It was really quiet there as there is no through road, it was out of season and only got the day trippers on Sunday.  Otherwise it was just empty restaurants and a few farmers.  The dunes were good, a couple of them quite high, with good views over the crashing impenetrable surf and the steep cliffs where the hills go into the sea.  The women in the fields were slow and methodical, with peaked sunhats, and a pair of white Javanese cattle were being used for ploughing.  The overriding memory is of the beach where the waves were high and incessant in this season, impossible for fishing; it was hard to imagine there could ever be a time when tourists strolled along here let alone went swimming.

Parangtritis:  My picture
I found Parangtritis peaceful and this helped my frame of mind for the journey back to Yogya and on to Jakarta.  A train journey in Indonesia was essentially middle-class even in third, as the poor stay put or go on the day buses.  As the dawn rose there were people coming out into the fields with ducks and buffaloes against a backdrop of a volcano, and then we were passing the shanties and filthy shelters  without any sanitation that people lived in along the railway line into Jakarta. 

Patrimonium Mundi:  Panoramas of Borobudur and Prambanam.
In the Kraton:  My picture

Frieze at Borobudur:  My picture

Java Street Scene:  My picture

Monday, 22 November 2010

November 22nd: Dayuno in Eastern Ecuador

On November 22nd 1975 I was in Dayuno on the Nushino River in eastern Ecuador.

In Quito it had been suggested to me that, if I wanted to visit Amazonian Indians, I should look for a guide called Hector in Puerto Misahualli.  He took small groups to the Huaorani.  After a few days hanging out in Banos and doing some walks, I took the bus down to the jungle.  I met Austrians Andreas and Monika on the way down who were also looking for a guide.  Misahualli was tiny, but it did have a couple of hotels offering simple lodging and a shop.  We had a meal at Hector's place, discussing the trip, singing Ecuadorean songs, drinking mucho aguardiente, with Hector's brother Hugo playing guitar.

At breakfast next morning Hector had found a new arrival, Vietnam veteran Jeff, and suggested leaving immediately with Hugo as guide.  It turned out that Hugo hadn't done the journey before but that was not really much of an issue.  We bought what food we could, rice, sardines and chocolate, and some gifts, and went through the police check.  We took a motorised canoe, which had a leak and 15 passengers, and then the rain came down.  We got to Campana Cocha, a Quechua-speaking village where we were to leave our main rucksacks.  I carried what else I needed in an improvised pack made out of my plastic poncho and it was never comfortable.  We then set out past maize and banana fields.  We walked for the best part of six hours and at some speed because we had to get to our destination by nightfall, which meant passing over a watershed and carrying on as far as the next river.  There was not much to see, the huge trees, some red flowers and, high up, the clouds, but there were lots of sounds.  As it was getting dark we passed a group of Huaorani going the other way and immediately there we were on a cliff and the river Nushino was at our feet.  We were rowed across the river, which was only about 20 or 30 feet wide, and were welcomed under a bamboo shelter with a platform.  We were given yucca and fish, rice and noodle soup which contained monkey meat.  The senora ran the show and spoke a little Spanish.  Crocodile was another favourite for them to eat she said.

In the morning, after not much sleep, we were rowed along the river by two boys, and this was truly atmospheric, a narrow river, no engine, no radio, early morning mist over the water, many birds, different parrots and green kingfishers.  Two canoes passed us going the other way carrying mainly women.  Then on a bend shortly before Dayuno, our destination, was a Huaorani standing absolutely still on his canoe, his hairstyle characteristic, long at the front and short at the back, and he was fishing with a blowpipe.  After landing we put our things into a newly-built platform bamboo house, which was where we were to spend the night, and set out to look around. 

It immediately became clear that there was no-one who spoke Spanish there, as the Catholic priest who ran a small school was away.  However we were still made welcome.  There were several women and children there but only two men who had not gone away.  One of the women was a great mimic: she spent much of the time with us imitating what were saying, in Spanish, English and German, causing herself and everyone else endless laughter.  We gave cigarettes and sweets, were given good little bananas in return and then we were shown around.  The village was spread out around a beach on a curve of the river, with little fields of yucca, bananas and something which looked like small coconut palms at one end; they also kept chickens and a pig, attended by an egret.  There was a school and a latrine and large, open bamboo huts where people slept, often under mosquito nets.  They did not use money but bartered, even when they went to town. It seemed a happy place, with an easy pace of life, enlivened by bursts of activity.

We went into one of the large low huts where the people lived.  One of the older men was lying back on a hammock, watching us through the smoky air.  Looking around I could see they had a variety of artefacts made from gathered materials, some like the hammocks made of twisted vines, others for example using gourds.  Pride of place, however, went to the blowguns, quivers and bowls for the fibre used to hold the arrows in the guns.  I did however notice a good knife and we knew that they sometimes used guns and bullets for hunting nowadays.  We were shown how to handle the blowguns and how to tip the arrows with curare, and we had plenty of practice at shooting, to peals of laughter.  Andreas and Jeff both wanted blowguns and set about bartering.  I gave a man a tee-shirt which he immediately put on, and I gave a woman a mirror.  She went away and came back to give me an arrow-set, again to great amusement, and eventually I passed these on to Andreas as I could not carry them with me on my travels.

The journey back the next day was more relaxed in clearer weather.  At a river crossing we sat, drank and bathed for an hour.  Later we passed a group of Indians going the other way, running at great speed.  In Campana Coche we had pineapples, the best I have ever eaten, and a good meal.  We stayed at Alejandro's place, a comfortable house like most of those in the village, where everything was nicely laid out.

There is quite a lot of back story to the Huaorani.  For long they were called the Auca, still were when I was there, and it took me a while to realise they were one and the same.  Auca was a derogatory Quechua term and contributed to their image.  They were warlike and feared.  In the 50's a group of American missionaries from the Wycliffe Bible Translators, affiliated with SIL, the Summer Institute of Linguistics, were killed by them.  The sister of one of those killed returned and managed to convert a group of Huaorani.  Some groups receded to the deep forest to live without contact.  I believe that the Dayuno group were ones who were trying to live in a halfway house, with limited contact and a Catholic priest and a school, and welcomed the sort of controlled tourism I encountered.  However I believe the conflicts between missionaries and the converted and unconverted Huaorani continue.  They have protected land but this is an area many are keen to exploit for petrol.

Hugh Thomson, as recorded in his book The White Rock, stayed at Misahualli in 1982.  He too was looking for companions for a river trip; he found them and visited sites on the Napo.  Perhaps the inhabitants of Dayuno had cut themselves off by then.

Blowgun equipment like items I used:  Picture Tong-Jen, CC
Huaorani Man in 2008: picture by bbcworldservice, CC
Misahualli in 2006: Picture by Colonos, CC

Saturday, 20 November 2010

November 20th: Besakih in Bali

On November 20th 1981 I was in Besakih on Bali.

After walks in the vicinity of Gunung Agung in eastern Bali, I wanted to see more of the mountain and the way it is regarded on the island.  The principal temple of Bali is at Besakih, on the South-West slopes of the mountain.  Besakih is a complex of temples, dating back to the 14th Century.  From my journal:
Above Besakih:  My picture
At 5 am I opened the window of my cheap hotel and saw Agung up there completely clear in the blue sky and the dawn light.  By a little before six I'd made it to a warung for coffee before most of the locals had set up stall.  The temples were nearly deserted in the early morning, but I only lingered for a moment by the trees on the back wall of the main temple.  I couldn't resist walking up towards the volcano, up a green and bamboo-edged ravine until it got so narrow I had to find a trail up onto the fields above.  The local farmers tried to direct me towards the real Gunung Agung trail but I never found it.  As so often it didn't matter.  I went down to a deep ravine in which a trickle of water flowed down rocks and lava and wet black volcanic sand.  I sat for a few minutes in perfect peace at a sunny spot, my mind never quite still, feeling the energy of the holy spot.  I came to a dead end at a hundred foot cliff with a surprised screaming black bird.  So I retreated and climbed the other side through pine trees and tree-ferns and some birds and butterflies, a falcon and an eagle above, but getting no nearer Agung.  Looking back towards my spot and the little shrines, there was an 11 tiered (Shiva?) temple above, maybe by the real trail.  Finally I came back to civilisation via pretty paths and wild raspberries, to the relative activity of Besakih, as it was clouding over, for coffee, drinks and markisas, packing and leaving.
The previous afternoon I had gone into the temple complex soon after I arrived to have a look around.  The whole effect was impressive with the cloud-covered mountain ominous behind.   I looked at the intricate statuary and steps leading into the first temple, which seemed older than everything else.  One temple was preparing for a ceremony, and they had a live female duck trussed up among the offerings.  The commercialisation wasn't too bad.  Outside was a tourist town, but all the tourists were local from every part of the island, religious tourists.  I think I was the only foreigner to stay overnight.

Temple at Besakih:  My picture
Agung clear behind Besakih:  My picture

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Thursday, 18 November 2010

November 18th: Tirtagangga in Eastern Bali

On November 18th 1981 I was in Tirtagangga in eastern Bali.  I made an outing to the village of Tenganan, which was reputed to have customs that predate most village life on the island.

The Water-Palace:  My picture
Eastern Bali is dominated by Gunung Agung, the volcano which is a major focal point of religious sentiment on the island.  Out on foot you are always aware that the mountain is there.  In the wet season, as it was when I was there, it may be shrouded in thick cloud, but when the clouds pull back the moment seems magical.  As you walk around you encounter lava flows at unexpected places.  I stayed at Tirtagangga, the water palace of a twentieth century ruler from nearby Karangsem.  Built only in 1946 the water-palace seemed a bit kitsch to me, but it made a pleasant place for a swim.  There was also a decent cheap hotel, which attracted interesting visitors and was therefore a good place to hang out for a few days.  You could have your evening meal on the terrace and watch a lovely sunset amongst the clouds, with frogs beginning to croak in the dying light. It was also, like most places I went inland in Bali, a great place for trips out.

Writing a book in Tenganan:  My picture
On this day I went with a friend.  We took a bemo to Amlapura, a nothing sort of town, but the Rajah's Palace had some good statues and a little pavilion on a pool (he also built the water-palace) and a few Chinese features. We took a bemo to the turning to Tenganan, began to walk along the road, but a bemo came by and we took it, and it started to rain just as we arrived.  The village was very interesting, the lay-out reminded me of Nias, houses close together with a wide area between with communal or meeting-houses in the middle. There was also a second row of houses and maybe a third.  The compounds sometimes seemed like little versions of Bali houses, but the temples much smaller and less significant.  All around were huge slopes making it perfectly defended by a valley.  We stopped and talked with a maker of lantok (bark) books, very fine, about the story of Arjuna fighting one of his brothers, and he chanted a bit of the writing, in old Javanese.  He also played a sort of gamelan and told us he was a puppeteer, a dalang, one of 265 on Bali.

We walked back down the road into more normal Bali, past a place where a bough of a banyan had crashed through the roof of a house; the people there understandably had long faces, something unusual on the island.  On either side of the valley were low unforested hills, terraced right up, but only for the grazing of cattle with little houses or byres near the top.  At Bugbug we looked for food but only found a good "es" (ice mixed with anything), basically a jackfruit sundae, excellent.

Another day I walked up behind the water-palace and the temple through lanes to a wide trail-road to Budakeling, a large village with lots of temples and even a festival, but no Buddhist signs which I had expected from my Indonesian Handbook.  Some people there file their teeth, but not as spectacular as I'd seen in Africa.  Then I followed on up a hill behind to another village called Komala and enjoyed a long sit out of light rain where there was a shelter and a long talk with a gentleman from Karangasem.  On beyond were rice-fields, more temples, a swathe of coconut palms and the slopes of Agong going up into the clouds; and a great feeling of peace.  On the way back the rain really set in at Budakeling; I sat over tea in a warung, and came back by bemo.

More locally I walked and found some women weaving the sashes they wear in temples for festivals, really fine and tightly woven of a silky substance, which they make by a complicated process I didn't fully understand.  Then I walked on paths and lanes, through shady fields with thatch houses and beautiful deer-like cows in little thatched byres, and over a little ridge to a lava river where there was a warung with beans and peanuts.

The Indonesian Handbook was banned in Indonesia.

Lower slopes of Gunung Agung:  My picture

Lava River under Gunung Agong:  My picture

Tenganan:  My picture

Tenganan:  My picture

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