Thursday, December 17, 2009

The 6 Manliest (realistic) Christmas Gifts

Regardless of whether they know me very well or not, I am berated by girls asking ‘So what should I get X for his birthday/ for Christmas?’ What would YOU want for your birthday/Christmas? Guys are so hard to buy for!’. Whenever I’m asked this I usually respond with ‘I don’t know’. The thing is, I do know, damn it. I do I do I do I do, but I’m hardly going to tell them because the gifts are either outrageously expensive or likely to generate mocking laughter, meaning that I going home alone. Again.

However, since I’m safe from derisive laughter here at my keyboard I’m willing to put in writing the 6 Manliest Gifts you can receive for Christmas. If any guys reading this WOULDN’T love to receive at least ONE of these gifts (based on the gift’s nature alone, not its monetary value), then you’ll have to hand in your penis on the way out.

6. A Year’s Supply of Beer

Yes, it exists. Every year, somewhere in the world, there is a chance to win a year’s supply of beer. Right now, you can find it here. What isn’t to like about this delicious beverage? It’s got sugar in it, it’s got bubbles in it, it’s got alcohol in it and it’s also been around for thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians drank it, the Romans drank it and Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke drank it. In fact, he drank it so much that, for a time, he held the world record for beer drinking; a yard glass (1.7L/3 imperial pints) in 11 seconds. That alone should be incentive enough to enjoy this gift – one day you too can have your name in the record books AND run a country. That’s two gifts in one!

Leadership material

Sure, there are naysayers who declare that beer is the root of all evil, that it causes harm to society, that it damages the livers and bellies of people everywhere, but to them I say ‘feh!’. ‘Feh’ to your wowserism and ‘feh’ to your buzz-killing. Beer is a root of friendship and good times. Camping and fishing trips worldwide have been turned into bonding experiences (but not in a gay way) because of beer. It’s a problem solver which has even been embraced by Barack Obama. And if there’s one bandwagon we all love jumping on, it’s the Obamamobile.

5. A vehicle of any sort

Blokes love vehicles. It’s just one of those things. It probably started with a mammoth ride thousands of years ago and it hasn’t stopped since. Before cars it was all about having the best horse, before outboard motors it was all about having a slim boat with crafty sails, before motorbikes it was having the most smashing Penny Farthing in the street, eh wot? The invention of the internal combustion engine initiated blokes’ love affair with the noise and feeling of explosions in close proximity to his body. Some guys are turned on by the rumble of a V8, others by the raw power of a crotch-rocket (it means ‘motorbike’ – look it up), others by the smell of a 2-stroke outboard motor. It’s all the same though, it all boils down to our desire to go further and faster than we’ve been before, and if we can do it with our mates in tow, then it’s even better.

Dear Santa…

Granted, vehicles can be quite pricy, but this helpful list wouldn’t be the same without the inclusion of lumps of metal powered by barely-contained explosions.

4. Fishing gear

There’s a primal bit, right at the base of our brains, which compels us to hunt and provide for our families, and it’s rarely satisfied in the modern world. Did you fight a bear for your dinner last night? No? Well that’s a problem, isn’t it? How are you going to satisfy that primal alpha-male urge? Certainly not by knocking out a koala. The solution lies in obtaining fishing gear. Ideally it’s a rod, a tackle box and a reel full of line, but in some circumstances some line and hooks wrapped around a bit of wood suffices.

A time when men were Men

Fishing gear is our connection to a different time – when we had to kill our dinner in the great outdoors. It exposes us to fresh air, new sights, and the thrill of pursuing a quarry. Mates are usually in this equation too (as you may have noticed, it’s a recurring theme here). Sure, fishing on your own can be fun and relaxing, but it’s not the same as sharing the excitement of a large catch with someone else.

It’s also fun to say ‘Yeah, you can hold the fish anywhere, it isn’t poisonous’ when you know full well that it is.

3. Lego Technic

I shouldn’t even have to explain this one. Every young boy liked Lego in some shape or form. If a bloke claims to have never enjoyed Lego in his life, it’s time you started questioning his gender and his claim that he pisses standing up. Lego Technic is the gateway to understanding how stuff works and it’s been the inspiration for engineers the world over. If that isn’t enough there’s also a theme park dedicated to it which proves that you can do nearly anything with Lego if you set your mind to it.

Since anecdotal evidence is the most reliable form of evidence I’m going to share a little story with you all. When I was 8 years old all I wanted for Christmas was the Lego Technic Thunder Rescue Helicopter, and my parents knew it, but they couldn’t afford it. Slightly disappointed, but entirely understanding, I made a list of other Lego that I wanted for Christmas and put the helicopter firmly on the ‘Unobtainable’ shelf in my mind. I knew, KNEW that I wouldn’t be getting that set for Christmas, so imagine my reaction when, on Christmas morning, I unwrapped a large box with the Thunder Rescue Helicopter inside. My body was electric and I was left in stunned grateful silence. It is the best gift I have ever received, and I’m betting ever will receive, purely because it was a dead-certainty that I would never get it. And yet there it was. It ranks higher than a car or my guitar because in my 8-year-old mind I may as well have asked for the moon.

THAT is why a Lego Technic model is in this Manly Gifts list – because all guys are secretly 8 years old.

It may not look like much to some, but to others it’s the whole world.

2. A Stihl Chainsaw

The only reason this isn’t number one is because blokes haven’t worked out how to have sex with it - in fact, it’s well-documented that we shouldn’t even try. These things are dangerous, really loud and quite powerful – all the reasons why we want to own one. Why did I specify Stihl brand? Because I’m sponsored by them. But really, the reason is because they make bloody good chainsaws and the Stihl orange is now synonymous with quality. Great, I sound like a bloody ad.

Oh you are just gorgeous

The point is, these things are fantastic. They make a noise which is second-to-none, the combined smell of two-stroke fuel and sawdust is better than… I dunno, I got distracted thinking about it. When you’re using one the weight and vibration and sound and threat of imminent death is intoxicating – you feel like the strongest person in the world. Chainsaws can also kill or maim you if you lose concentration! How cool is that! Also, you can cut down trees with them which is a manly experience in itself. Ever cut down a tree? You should. It’s great.

1. A woman

I know it’s weird how ‘a woman’ is number one in this ‘manly gifts’ list, but bear with me. Women are beautiful creatures and they don’t nag all the time if you pick the right one. They’re there to look after you when you’re sick, console you when you’re sad, praise you when you succeed, they’re great to look at and the right one likes a bunch of the same stuff that you like. They do a bunch of other stuff too: they have real hair, moveable joints and a karate-chop action! Women remember important dates, so you’ll never need to carry a diary around, and they know everything there is to know about medical stuff, so you’ll never have to remember the ‘right’ questions to ask your doctor.

Nurses don’t use stethoscopes, but I’m willing to overlook that just this once

You’ll have someone to share the cooking and cleaning duties with, someone to tell jokes to and someone to grow old with. Plus, they do all the things that the rest of the stuff in this list does – they can get you beers from the fridge, they can drive you places, they can go fishing, they can cut wood and they have lots of fiddly bits to play with as well. just like Lego. In fact, forget about the driving and fishing and beer and tree-felling, and let’s talk more about those fiddly bits…

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The 6 ways Twilight: Eclipse can be more Twilighty than Twilight (it will be terrible)

In a tall tower somewhere in Hollywood, the people responsible for the Twilight movies are lounging around on a pile of money and pre-teen angst. New Moon shattered all the box office records set by The Dark Knight (it’s ok, even we don’t know how that happened), and the people in charge want to milk the cash cow some more by releasing the next movie by June 2010. That’s only six months away! Sound unachievable? Sound like madness? Well, so do the producers tasked with this feat, so they put out the call for proposals on how to best tackle the situation.

6. The Script

How it’s usually done:

All movies start with either a script, or a pitch to write a script. If there’s a script the studio pays the writer for it, and then changes everything, because studios are run by jerks. If there’s only a pitch, the studio straps a monkey to a typewriter and says, ‘Write a movie about stuff blowing up around Bruce Willis.’

The script is what the movie is based on; it tells the actors what to say, it establishes the setting for the story and it tells the director when to insert a kickarse car chase. A good script, like the one used for The Usual Suspects, can make for an enthralling thriller. A bad script, like the one used in every Eddie Murphy movie, leaves the audience feeling cheated but, hey, at least there WAS a script.

How Twilight: Eclipse should do it:

Forget this stage completely, just like the Twilight books forget to include a plot. The movies don’t NEED a script – this isn’t The Shawshank Redemption, this is fucking Twilight. It doesn’t need to make sense, it just needs to appeal to naïve pre-teens and horny 18-year-old girls. Just roll those cameras and feel the angsty one-dimensional love (by the way, that’s the name of my new band). Twilight and New Moon set the precedent on this one – they apparently didn’t use a script, so why the hell should the third movie? It SHOULDN’T, that’s why. It’d ruin the authentic Twilight vibe with things like ‘dialogue’ and ‘coherence’. Does Twilight’s lead character, Pale McRapey, ruin the mood by thinking before he speaks? OF COURSE HE DOESN’T. He just stares moodily into space and mumbles anything while his girlfriend stumbles around dropping things.

'I can’t believe they’re actually paying me to do this'

5. Casting Calls

How it’s usually done:

The studio (run by jerks) has a script and they need to fill all the roles required. They choose a director and spend months filtering out terrible candidates through an arduous audition process. Their goal is to find someone with that X factor, that thing that makes them stand out from all the rest. It could be their acting ability, it could be their chiselled jaw, or their big boobs (this is usually where the casting for female leads ends) or, as happens most often, it could be the actor’s HUNGER and LUST and LACK OF DIGNITY that gets them the gig. What we’re saying is that some actors don’t SUCK at what they do.

How Twilight: Eclipse should do it:

Casting? The studio doesn’t need to do that shit. They already have their one-dimensional, pseudo-attractive lead actress from the first two movies, why change it now? Female audiences love it when the ugly duckling gets her man, because there’s an ugly duckling in every girl, waiting to turn into a swan.

Fun fact: ‘Ducklings are baby ducks. Cygnets are baby swans. Please get it right.’

The male lead from the first two movies is back as well, so there is no need for the studio to go through the frankly terrifying ordeal of finding a pigeon-chested little bastard in Hollywood who looks like a rapist. Against all odds, the studio has their token eye-candy for the movie too in the form of a pre-cast actor from movies one and two. Did we mention that he isn’t underage in this film and that it’s now legal for audiences to be aroused by him?

Sure, Twilight: Eclipse contains more than three characters (does it? I haven’t read the book), but no one cares who plays them. The studio will just paint ‘Vampire Three’ on the sound guy and throw some flour on him before pushing him into shot – no one cares, they’ll be too enthralled by Pale McRapey’s moody stare and Wolfy McChildporn’s muscle tone.

‘Old men in trench coats are gonna be all up on my shit’

4. Location Scouting

How it’s usually done:

Directors and producers traipse all over the globe looking for that ideal location. For Quantum of Solace they went to Havana on a location scout. Why? Because if you had an all-expenses-paid trip to Cuba, wouldn’t you?


It’s ok, neither would I, but Hollywood types love expense accounts and the perks that come with them.

That’s the beauty of Hollywood – no location is off-limits, especially when it comes to cashing in on a semi-poorly-written, semi-novel about vampires.

How Twilight: Eclipse should do it:

Location Scouting is for amateurs. Take my advice, producers, you don’t need to scout SHIT for Eclipse because you did all that way back in the Twilight: The First Movie days, remember? You already have a foggy pine forest to film in, you already have an architect’s house to film in, and you already have tumbledown shanty to film in (McRapey’s girlfriend’s house could be described as a shanty, right?). What else do you need? Fucking NOTHING is what. Why should you spend valuable time which you don’t have scouting out locations which will just end up on the cutting room floor? ‘You shouldn’t’ is what I’m getting at. If you deviated from the well-established ‘Of course vampires live in forests, there’s no sun there’ you would just piss off all the girls who haven’t seen the two Blade movies (as far as I’m concerned Blade Trinity doesn’t exist).

3. Special Effects

How it’s usually done:

In any way possible. These days it’s mostly done on computers, but before the electronic age it was the domain of puppets and fishing line. Back then special effects could be done fairly easily and quickly, and they were cheap too. Nowadays it’s a whole different ballgame; a whole different expensive and time-consuming ballgame. Movies like Star Wars and The Matrix are game-changers, and push the boundaries of what is possible to do in the digital space.

'Mister Lucas, can you PLEASE put down the crack pipe?'

In addition to all the ‘obvious’ special effects like explosions and spaceships are the colour-grade and filtering effects. Remember in The Matrix how everything in the ‘real world’ had a blue hue to it whereas everything inside the Matrix had a green tint? That’s the colour-grade at work – slight manipulation of the footage to bring out certain colours or add a narratively-essential effect (matrix blue/green). Every movie is colour-graded, whether you realise it or not.

‘Bring up the white some more. She doesn’t look boring enough’

How Twilight: Eclipse should do it:

I have three words for you: ‘Bucket’ ‘Of’ ‘Glitter’. That’s it. The studio doesn’t need fancy computer graphics to bring their poncy vampires to life – they just need to sprinkle a popular craft accessory all over their actors shortly before the camera rolls. Pale McRapey not enough of a glitter queen? Just use more glitter. Vampires not pale enough? Just throw flour at them until they develop a wheat allergy. It’s really fucking simple, and I am disgusted that the studio didn’t pay ME to do the effects for the first two films. I could have spent the effects budget on cheap polish vodka and mail-order brides whilst STILL delivering on my promise of providing ‘The sparkliest damn vampires you’ve ever seen. Like, you don’t even KNOW’. Fuck Blade’s lava and ash; it’s all about glitter and getting in touch with your feelings.

Glitter-queen rapists aside, what about the colour grade?

What colour grade? The scenes in Twilight are so full of fog that you can’t see shit anyway, so why do you want to change the mood? Vampires and teenage girls LOVE fog, and the fog helps accentuate how pale and bland the characters are, so any changes made in post-production would be artistic suicide (Erotic artistic suicide – that effects budget won’t spend itself).

2. Sound and Music

How it’s usually done:

While the movie is being shot, the composer gets to work writing music that reflects the action in the script. As the filming is completed he or she then alters the music accordingly to better reflect how the movie ACTUALLY turned out after the jerk studio altered the script. Sweeping scores match sweeping wide shots; deep, drawn-out tones enhance scary moments; exciting guitar riffs follow helicopter shots of pirates. The music is an alternative interpretation of the script and should complement the story that unfolds.

Likewise with sound effects – they enhance the mood on screen and add something to the experience. Think the squeaking bed in your favourite love scene was recorded on-set? It wasn’t. The sound was creating by the Foley artist squeezing two dog toys with his hands (that isn’t a euphemism). Ever wondered how they made that aroused moaning sound that comes out of the female lead’s mouth? Bears.

The real face of celluoid orgasms

How Twilight: Eclipse should do it:

This movie is all about werewolves or vampires or something (are there werewolves in Twilight: Eclipse?) so the chances of a bear turning up are slim to none. The only sounds you need are wolf howls, mouth-breathing (for Pale McRapey) and crickets chirruping to enhance the tension of the moody stares. Are McRapey and his Love Slave having a deep-and-meaningful talk in the forest? Add cricket noises. Is Wolfy McChildporn is getting his wolf junk out and flexing his muscles? Add cricket noises and a howl – even if his mouth is shut. The audience won’t notice this minor detail as they’ll be too enthralled by his pendulating red rocket. Twilight movies are all about clichés, so include as many as you can, especially in the sound department. Remember the sound of exploding vampires in Blade? Well forget it – Twilight vampires are all about twinkling, so hire the people who did Tinkerbell’s sound effects in Peter Pan and you’re sitting on a solid gold winner.

1. Direction

How it’s usually done:

A director usually reads a script, makes a metric shit-ton of notes, and storyboards his or her balls off to make the movie work. The reason The Lord of the Rings was so good was due to Peter Jackson’s fastidious storyboarding process. Every single shot was mapped out, revised, deleted and mapped out again so everything flowed. The director is responsible for motivating the actors and tying the whole production together. Grass not green enough? Change it. Backlot village not real enough? Blow up a real one. Directors give the movie focus – they decide what stays and goes, what’s good and what’s not, when the actors should show some more skin (every Jessica Biel movie), and when they should cover up (every Kathy Bates movie).


The creative force behind any movie comes from the person in the cheap canvas chair, and if a solid script is turned into a terrible movie, the blame rests solely with them.

How Twilight: Eclipse should do it:

It’s been established that Twilight: Eclipse won’t have a script – that’s an old-fashioned way to make films - and the guy who directed Twilight: New Moon, Chris Weitz, has announced that he’s quitting the film industry after his next project. There is only one rational conclusion to draw from this: Twilight: Eclipse should go one step further and not have a director at all, not even at the start of the project. Hell, what even needs directing? The actors? Of course not, they don’t even have a script to read! Besides, I’m sure they’ve seen humourless, blank cliff faces before, they just need to replicate that, but on film, just like they did in the first two movies.


As for the editing process, it’s clear that nothing from the first films got cut, because if there was, there wouldn’t actually BE any Twilight films in the first place. Think outside the box, studio jerks. Think beyond your cocaine-fueled sexy-party filled existences and consider my proposal for the next Twilight movie. Face it: it can’t be worse than what you’re already considering.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Will update soon

Turns out I haven't posted anything in a while for one reason or another. Will put something up this week.

Monday, July 27, 2009

You probably heard about it

I’m a pretty friendly guy and I’m always willing to chat to a new friendly person and maybe make a new friend. It works well for me. Every time I go to town I strike up a conversation with at least one stranger and, after about ten minutes, we go our separate ways as friends. Sometimes we even catch up at a later date to shoot the breeze or a wallaby. One of the nicest people I ever met was a catholic priest who happened to be standing behind me in Toys R Us. We got talking and we established that we had a lot in common, and we agreed to catch up for a coffee later that day. He had some ‘lovely things to do to the children’ and I had to throw rocks at trees in the botanic gardens, so it wasn’t as if either of us had to wait for the other one. We met for a couple of drinks and before I knew it I was waking up in the parklands wearing golfer’s pants and a blonde wig. Time (apparently) flies when you’re (apparently) having fun. I didn’t hear from him again – his office informed me that he’d gone to Thailand on business or something. Nice guy though, really liked kids.

I try to keep this ‘talking to strangers’ thing going despite setbacks like the Monsignor Francis incident. Talking to strangers is a great way to spend the day and an excellent way to meet new and exciting people. I stay in contact with most of the people I meet, even if the court has asked me not to. Besides, really, who are they to tell me who I can’t speak to? They don’t know my friends like I do. Only I understand them. I’m special. They’re special. It’s meant to be.

Despite the insistence of a guy who had the nerve to call himself a ‘Supreme Court Judge’ I went to Adelaide’s only street today to buy some duct tape and make some new friends. Adelaide’s great like that; it’s so small that you’re just bound to run into someone you like! I started at the East end of town, the home of the swanky cafés. There was something about the smell of coffee that excited me today and made me feel lucky. I strolled down the street and gave a friendly smile to each person I walked past. Some of them returned the smile, others looked at me coldly, and some others just ignored me completely. Their loss I guess, they don’t know what they’re missing. Someone else was going to feel the cold tendrils of my friendship today whether they liked it or not. My new friend wasn’t going to be the tall redhead though – there was something about her that was a bit disquieting. I think it was her nose; it just didn’t look right. The fishnet stockings made sense because, apparently, that’s fashionable at the moment, and the knee-high boots worked too on some level, but it all seemed a bit unnatural. It might have been the Adam’s apple that threw me, but I’m not certain on that. A homeless person asked me for change when I was just a few blocks down the city’s only street and I managed to avoid giving him any by playing dead. I lay there for forty eight minutes. Someone had called an ambulance but I’d whispered, in my most dramatic voice, ‘Please stop, I’m alright. I’m just trying to skip out on giving this homeless guy any money,’ in the paramedic’s ear as she went down for another CPR-breath. She sure didn’t like people faking their own deaths, and she liked it even less when they groped her. She slapped me across the face as I went for yet another grope. Turns out unconscious people don’t have a groping reflex. I tried to tell her that I’d read on the internet that they did but she just threatened to press charges unless I went away. I dodged the homeless guy on the way out and stole a hat from a worried bystander in order to make good my escape. Police HATE it when you steal their hats.

I was in a jail cell at the police station for two hours before they let me go. They told me that they hoped I’d ‘learned my lesson’, and that they’d press charges if I did it again. I left before they could check my cell - that mess was going to take HOURS to clean up, and there was no way in hell I was going to be blamed for it because they had no proof. Incidentally, I’ve got some wicked footage to upload to Youtube later.
Fortunately for me, and whoever had to hose down my cell, it was still early in the afternoon and I had plenty of time to make a new friend. What made my day even better was that the police station was at the West end of the city, so getting arrested had actually saved me some time. There was no telling how many times I would’ve needed to play dead on my way across town if I’d walked. The good thing about the West end of town is that there are lots of people to talk to, and most of them have great stories to tell. There’s one woman in the West end who can talk for hours about how many sailors have seen her bed. She must be a damn fine bed salesperson, especially when you consider the state of her uniform. Her hygiene leaves nothing to the imagination either – this woman could write an encyclopaedia on sores and infections if she wanted to. She probably wouldn’t want to though since it’d take up a lot of her time; time that could be better spent selling beds to sailors. There’s also guy in the West end who shouts at the sky, and another who shouts at the ground. They’re always good for a laugh. I once told the sky-yeller that he was actually shouting at the ground, and the ground-yeller that he was shouting at the sky. They were so confused that they didn’t say a word for days. They’re great guys though – always good for a chat, as long as you want to talk about the sky (or the ground). Just a helpful piece of advice though: do NOT under ANY circumstances talk about the horizon. As far as they‘re concerned that shit doesn’t exist and if you even THINK about raising the subject then you may as well call the firemen right there and then because they’re the only ones who’ll be able to save you.

I walked further west past the rambling tramps until I reached the very end of the only street in town. As I reached the corner I was approached by a woman dressed like a rainbow. She had clothes pegs in her hair and a giant smile painted across her forehead in lipstick. She was beautiful, like a bipolar clown or a diseased raincoat, and she knew it. She danced across the pavement like a drunken bicycle and waved at me to stop. I stopped. It is unwise to anger a kaleidoscopic bear. She looked deeply into my eyes and beckoned me closer. I moved closer. She cocked her head to the side, and indicated that I should mimic her. I did so. She was so close that I could smell the talcum powder which covered her neck and one of her arms. She leaned closer and whispered, directly into my ear, ‘Do you… believe?’
‘Do I believe what?’ I asked.
‘Do you believe in HIM?’ she said as she pointed to the sky with a finger much like a concert pianist’s.
I didn’t answer her and instead looked at the bleeding finger she held in her hand. I simply HAD to have one.
She pressed on.
‘Do you believe in HE WHO CREATES ALL?’ She shouted the last bit and it hurt my ears. I jumped back slightly, but not too far – I still wanted to know where she’d found the finger and how much she’d paid for it. Not wanting to seem rude, I stood next to her and said, quite politely, ‘No. I think that’s a preposterous question and I take great umbrage in the fact that you should even ask me such a thing on such a glorious day. I am a man of science, my good lady,’ I said, pointing to my microscope, ‘and you would do well to question yourself in regard to such matters.’
She grinned at me with her stupid toothless mouth and said, ‘Dearie, that’s the nicest thing anyone has said to me all day.’
I bowed, but not so much as to leave the back of my neck entirely undefended, and took a step backwards, keen to find a different crazy clown to befriend in the remaining hour I had left on the street. The rainbow woman, for no logical reason, leapt at me like an invisible fucking goat, screamed ‘PREPARE FOR THE RAPTURE’ and turned into a massive fuck-off dinosaur. She started stomping all over the place and would’ve eaten me if I hadn’t used sky-yeller and ground-yeller as crazy human shields. She smashed up half the damn city before the window washers came and saved the day.
It was all over the news, you probably heard about it.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

It's just... silly

I continue to be astounded by how far some people are willing to go to stay inside the negative cocoon they've built around themselves. It occurred to me when I was backpacking that we really do worry about some stupid stuff back here at home. Some people get really upset over a television channel being changed, a thought being spoken aloud, laughter when there shouldn't be any (according to them). Others are always complaining about 'The Man' (the government, corporations, the media) doing something they don't like, the world not being exactly as they see fit, or their lives not turning out as they had envisioned. It all adds up to nothing but a spiral of negativity which brings them and everyone around them down. Nothing constructive comes of it; in fact this behaviour often hastens the onset of self-loathing and despair. If you deem everything around you to be stressful, inappropriate or ugly, where are you going to find beauty and serenity? Will you find any at all? Will you ever be happy and content?
It's a question I can't definitively answer, but I'd hazard a guess that 'No' is going to be pretty accurate.

Kids are told 'not to judge a book by its cover', and it's a good lesson to learn. Reading between the lines and spotting the man behind the curtain are very important skills to have. Perhaps though, slightly older kids should be taught that putting a glossy cover on a grubby book improves the book's quality just a little bit and encourages readers to pick it up and get to know it. This isn't to say that people (or books) should hide depression, sickness or emotions behind a false facade, rather that if they act a little happier and smile a little more, the world will look on them and smile a bit more too.
'Smile and the world smiles with you' is a vomit-inducing line, but there's some truth hidden there.
'Fake it til you make it' is a better phrase. It's a well-known fact that the more depressed and boring you tell yourself you are, the more depressed and boring you will become. It's a two-way street though: if you tell yourself that you're happy, and force a smile, you feel a bit better. Soon you're not even faking it, it's become part of who you are. If all you're seeing is ugliness in everything and faults in everyone, you certainly won't notice a Perfect Moment when it comes swanning by.

Being closed to new experiences, new ideas and focusing on what's wrong with life and the world leaves your brain muddied. It took The Andes to crystallise my brain, and I'm glad it did. I worry about stupid stuff far less now, I'm far less judgemental than I used to be (or at least I keep more of those thoughts to myself) and I'm more receptive to perfect moments. In a nutshell, I'm much happier and I don't have this feeling that the world is a crappy place and that life is too hard to manage. Constantly complaining about things increases the chances you'll find fault in something - and that just continues the cycle with ever-increasing frequency.

The next time you go to say 'Well I guess I'm just boring then' or 'THIS is stupid, and THIS is stupid, and THIS is stupid' or that 'everything you do fails', just take a second and see if you can rephrase it to make it happier. Our lives aren't anywhere near as crappy as some people make them out to be, so it's probably a good idea if you stop bringing others into the make-believe world of crap you've created for yourself. If your life really IS crappy and difficult, well shit, get some help, you probably need it. If it ISN'T, and you come to the conclusion that, all things considered, life is pretty good and that you're lucky to have all these opportunities at your feet, you'll probably feel better about yourself and that positivity will rub off.

Sure, some things are worth worrying and complaining about but, really, is spilled milk really one of them?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Rainbow Connection

Regardless of how wrong Kermit the Frog is about songs about rainbows (there aren't all that many, really), I can use him as a very convenient segway to this week's topic: Why aren't women dressing in colours at the moment? I understand how practical blacks, greys and whites are, and how they suit 'any occasion and any budget' but I don't understand the conformity.

I was walking down Rundle Mall in Adelaide the other day and noticed a shopping strip nearly devoid of colour. Everyone was wearing black, grey or white. From a guy's perspective, black and dark colours are pretty much what we wear - we look good in them and, really, it's sort of been the shades guys have dressed in for centuries. Women on the other hand are usually more colourful and striking and like to turn heads when they go out. I like having my head turned when I'm walking around; it's like a bolt of joy out of the blue. It's usually something different about the head-turner that grabs my attention - it might be that they are staggeringly beautiful and shine in a sea of normalcy or, usually, they are dressed in a colourful and attention-grabbing way. I like these moments. The colours make the person look happy, confident and interesting, and they stand out from the background. There was nothing like that on Friday.

Everywhere I looked I saw the same drab clothing; it almost made me feel like I was in that Apple commercial from the mid-eighties. On reflection it makes sense because the world is going through a very similar phase right now. People are losing their jobs, stock prices are diving, and people are saving their pennies and restraining any disposable spending they might otherwise be doing. The world, in the eyes of many, is a depressing place at the moment, so why are people dressing accordingly? Wouldn't it be better if there was a splash of colour to brighten our days? Some bright colours would lift the spirits of workers and shoppers alike and exude a general feeling of happiness and well-being. Some call it 'faking it till you're making it', but a genuine mindset change has to start somewhere.

In Egypt there was colour everywhere on the street and most of it came from the headscarves that many girls and young Muslim women wore. It brightened the street and put a smile on my face by distracting me from the asphalt, noise, concrete and cars. Perhaps Aussie women should take a very small leaf out of the Cairo book and whack a bit of colour on to brighten their day. They'll look happier, feel happier, and make everyone who looks upon them a bit happier too. Try a bright scarf maybe, or an iridescent hat, or a jacket which screams 'I'm very bright and very happy, perhaps you'd like to turn your head as I walk past?'
I'll be turning my head for sure... if it's bright enough.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Home. Time to reflect

I've been home for a week - sufficient time I feel for the whole experience to sink in. I set out on the 3rd of March for a 7 week backpacking trip around the world with the goal of seeing everything I wanted to see when I was 8 years old, and I did it. I saw everything I wanted to, and then some. I even saw a Tyrannosaurus Rex, and I was convinced that I wouldn't. Granted, it was a model, and it was on Josh's mantelpiece in LA, but it still counts!

I started in Los Angeles, caught up with my mate Josh, met his fantastic girlfriend and his wonderful parents, and saw Disneyland, California Adventure and Six Flags Magic Mountain. I was rollercoastered to within an inch of my life.

From LA I hit Cancun where I partied with the American Amateur Mixed Martial Arts team for two days. I also got kicked out of their hotel by diminutive Mexican security guards. I saw the pyramid at Chichen Itza and got to tick another thing off of my Bucket List. I met two German tourists, Dan and Dan, two American spring breakers, Nikki and Jessica, the MMA team (of course), and a Kiwi whose name I can't remember.

Peru was my next stop and my luggage was lost en route. If given a chance, don't fly American Airlines. The aircrew appeared disinterested in their work, they misinformed me about my luggage, and they wanted to charge me for booze on the plane. Bad Mojo. I spent 12 days in Peru and saw Cusco, Macchu Picchu and the Inca trail. I met a brilliant group of travelers (most of them Aussies) and spent 45km and 5 days with them. I hope to see many of them again. It's at this point I must refer to Girl-Sam from Perth as 'a Superstar', because I promised I would. No, Sam, I don't know when the next 'fuckin banos stop' is :). Walking to Macchu Picchu was the most Cosmic thing I've ever done. Just magic.

After Peru I spent 30 hours in London where I managed to find time for the British Museum. I walked there from my hostel and experienced London as it should be experienced - rugged up against the cold sunshine in an empty street with nothing but clear air to breathe. I'm told that this is a false impression of London, but it's one that I shall treasure.

Jordan was the next stop where I was introduced to the Arabic language, the concept of tipping for no reason, and the delight of being Baksheeshed every five seconds. Saw Petra with Dan and Lindsay (sup?), two Americans that I met at the entrance to the Petra complex. Spent all day with them. Both top people, although Lindsay was much nicer to look at.

Egypt was the anchor of the trip. I met some people whom I'm sure I will see (and very much hope to see) again at some point. I saw the Pyramids at Giza, I walked INSIDE the Great Pyramid itself, I sailed on the Nile at night, I argued with stallholders at a market, I threatened to break a man's hand, I learned how to call people 'Gay' in Arabic and shouted it out of a moving cab, much to the displeasure of pedestrians. I saw the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens, Abu Simbel, the Cairo Museum, Tutankhamen's mask and all the associated treasure. I spent a week with an American bloke called Christian who insisted that he call me 'Mike'. I spent a day of perfect moments with the beautiful Rose and managed to teach HER some Arabic. It was not useful Arabic, but it was Arabic nonetheless. I sat on a boat as it floated down the Nile. I sat by a fire doing my best Jesus impression. I grew my beard long and took to wearing a Yasser Arafat hat. I saw the very best of Egypt and the very worst. I got drunk on a train in the middle of the night and threw up in one of the corridors. I sat cross-legged on the floor of the smoking car and regaled a group of English teenagers with stories of my trip.

I smoked sheesha with a German, a Canadian-Mongolian and a Kiwi-Indian. I watched Mehroo, the Kiwindian girl, make a scene on every street by swearing, dancing, laughing and punching (usually punching ME when I made fun of her height). I was asked to leave a papyrus store after Christian made a scene, and I got *this* close to punching an 8-year-old right in the middle of his stupid little 8-year-old face.

I saw many fascinating things, met many wonderful, beautiful, inspiring, funny people, fulfilled a heap of my life's goals and learned MUCH more than I ever dreamed possible. I learned alot about home by not being there, and I learned alot about myself by being completely absorbed in every moment of every day. I learned that becoming a floaty bearded backpacker is one of the joys that many people miss in life.

I'm home now, and I'm glad to be here, but I do already miss waking up and thinking 'Where am I again? How long do I have here? I wonder who I'll spend the day with today? Where is my next port of call?'. The solution to this is more travelling of course, and I will do another trip for sure, I just need the cash to do it.

I hope you've enjoyed vicariously joining me on my trip through this site, because I did enjoy writing it and sharing some of it with the people who stayed at home or went to different countries after we parted ways. I collated all the entries too and did a word count - this journal is longer than my honour's thesis, took alot less time to write, and was a damn sight more fun to work on too. I think there's something to be learned from that.

Stay safe, happy travels, and cheers for reading.

- Sam

Thursday, April 23, 2009

An Egyptian Conclusion

Egypt is done, finished, halas. It certainly was an interesting experience. So much of my childhood was spent dreaming of visiting the Pyramids, the Valley of the Kings, the Cairo Museum, and now that I've done it, I've come away with a slightly different impression than I imagined.

Egypt is NOT the idyllic desert oasis many people imagine it to be. Yes, the Nile is lovely in places. Yes, the pyramids are incredible and they DO emit an energy that I cannot put my finger on. Yes, the Valley of the Kings is a magnificent tribute to people who now live only in stories. Yes, the museum in Cairo is full of beautiful things and Tutankhamen's mask might just be the most beautiful thing ever made. No, Egypt is not the pristine place that exists in our imagination. On the whole, and this is going from my experiences in Cairo, Luxor and Aswan, I can make the following conclusion: Egypt is overcrowded, it's heavily polluted, it's chaotic, it's dishonest, it's filthy, it's noisy and it's tense.

There are an estimated 25-30 MILLION people living in Cairo alone. Of these people I would not be surprised if 70% were smokers. The lowest octane fuel they have is 84, so it burns like shit and emits nasty dark smoke. The roads logjam because there is no order, the stall-owners see white skin and immediately try to fleece you, people come up to you in the street and offer to give directions 'because they are helpful' only to turn around and demand money. If you threaten them with violence they go away. Generally, women are treated pretty fucking terribly compared to in the West and it's distressing. For example, I was walking across Tahrir square with Rose about about 10pm on a Friday night. I was perhaps 5 metres ahead of her at the time. I heard something and turned around to see three guys a few metres behind her following with what can only be described as a hungry expression on their faces. I stopped, looked at them and growled, 'Not tonight, mate.' They looked at me as if I was a bit insane, then adopted a look of fear, then walked in the other direction. Treating a woman nicely (or rather, not treating her UN-nicely) just because there is a man around is just plain wrong. There is no respect. I don't like having to put on a crazy face (although the beard does help), I don't like having to pretend I'm angry and I don't like having to fluff my plumage.

I don't mind the chaos in Cairo, it's sort of fun (AND I nearly got hit by a car. That was exciting), and I can tolerate the polluted air to a point, but what I cannot stand is the lack of respect people seem to have here. They don't respect the pyramids - the rubbish that surrounds them is evidence of that, they don't respect the tourists which keep the country afloat (the corrupt tourist police are evidence enough of that), they don't respect the word 'No' unless it's coupled with a few more 'No's' or in my case, physical violence, and they don't seem to get that dumping rubbish on the banks of the Nile might seem wrong and filthy and horrible.

This might all sound negative, but think of it this way: It's only through seeing how bad a situation can be that we appreciate how wonderful the GOOD situations are. Inside the Great Pyramid was astonishing, and quiet, and clean. The best people I met were the ones not asking for money or trying to fleece me. I spent some of the most amazing moments of my life standing in front of (or inside) 6,000 year old structures which hadn't been ruined by the modern world. I did fulfill lifelong dreams by coming to this place, and I do not regret visiting it in the slightest. There are some truly magic, truly beautiful, truly special places here which I would encourage everyone to visit. Just know that you'll have to develop a bit of a cold heart and a blind eye when you're here so you can cope. I liked being hassled some days because it meant I could play the game and see how far I could push the envelope, and it meant that I could test my bartering skills for a more appropriate time.

My recommendation for travel to Egypt would be: Book a good hostel, not a hotel. Hotels cloister you and you don't meet many people at all. Make sure the hostel is downtown. I spent time at the City Plaza hostel on 26th July Street (it's above GAD restaurant, the best fast food joint in Cairo), I spent time at the New Palace hotel just down the road from the City Plaza (it's a hostel without the 's') and I wouldn't have picked anywhere else. The managers were delightful, the locations were perfect and I got to meet a heap of cool people.

Second recommendation: See Giza, Saqqara, Dashur in one day. See the Cairo Museum on another day. See Coptic Cairo, Islamic Cairo and Khan Kalili market in one day, then go back to the market the next day for some proper shopping. Then get out of Cairo and see Aswan/Luxor, then maybe head out to the oasis in the Western Desert, or head to the Red Sea for some diving (didn't do either of these things). Spend enough time in Cairo to see what you want to see, then get out before it loses its sparkle, because it will.

Egypt is certainly a place where dreams come true - seeing the pyramids was one of mine - but remember that some dreams turn out a bit odd towards the end. Egypt, and Cairo by proxy, is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there.

I'll chuck up a trip summary in a few days, after I've been back here at home for a full week. Need some time to get my head around it all.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Not on a boat, not with a stoat, won't stay afloat

Day two started with the obligatory '2 pieces of bread, tea and a hard boiled egg' and a quick sail downriver. It was here that the captain disembarked to pick up more water (the pillock hadn't picked up all the water we'd ordered, he'd just pocketed the cash) and to 'conduct some business in Aswan). We sailed for 2 more km in an air of frustrated silence and landed on the other bank to wait for the captain. We were there for 2.5 hours while a nice breeze blew. A breeze that should have been taking us to our destination. We argued with the acting captain, we tried to work out what was going on, and it was generally not fun. Amongst all this tension were a few relaxing moments, but on the whole, it was tense. Captain useless returned with not enough water. Again, he'd pocketed some of the cash and only brought back two thirds of what we'd ordered. It was at this point that we labelled our water bottles and made the decision to drink sparingly to conserve water. This was supposed to be a relaxing cruise, not an exercise in water rationing.

After lunch we pestered the captain until he came clean. Apparently, all the feluccas take the same route all the time. 2 nights, 2 days, start here, stop there, no we never reach Luxor on this trip, it is impossible. Once he'd told the truth and reassured us that our transports would meet us the next day and take us where we needed to go, we all relaxed. All they had to do was tell us the truth from the start. Later in the aternoon we stopped in a faster section of the Nile to go for a swim. It was incredibly refreshing. We sailed on until just before dusk when we stopped on a long sandy beach. It sounds nice, but the Egyptians seem to treat every flat surface like a rubbish tip, so we had to be careful where we were stepping. A few of us spent an hour or so collecting enough wood and lumps of charcoal for a small fire which we lit on the beach near our boat. That bit was blissful. Fire, friends, a beach and a belly full of pasta. Three of us were in Galabayas and I had my white scarf around my head. I looked like Jesus haha. Watched the sky and the fire for a long time and just talked crap. It was nice to be properly relaxed. Went to bed at 10pm and woke at 5:30am to find that we were already under sail. At 8am our 'private air-conditioned car' arrived. It wasn't private, nor was it a car. It was a minibus packed with europeans. So it was an uncomfortable ride to the temples of Ko Ombo and Edfu. Ko Ombo was impressive because of the 4,000 year old paint that still clung to the stone pillars and the intricate carvings all over the wall.
Edfu was impressive because it was designed to be. Colossal pillars stood around a courtyard which in turn acted as an entrance to a dark pillared temple. The bas reliefs ran high up the 20 metre high walls and the paint could still be seen in places where the sun and rain don't reach. Incredible stuff. What's even more incredible is that the human race lost the ability to do this stuff for 700 years after the Roman Empire collapsed. We could be on Mars by now.

Speaking of Christians delaying the progress of human society, we found out that the defaced carvings in the temples were done out of jealousy by Christians hiding from the Romans. When the Romans came a'huntin', the people ran into the temples for refuge and decided that they should try and erase the 'false gods' from the walls. Most of the Greater Temple had been filled with sand at the time, so it was spared, thankfully, but still, what gives these terrified groups of lion food the right to erase history?

From Edfu we continued in the bus to Luxor where we checked into the hotel before heading to the temples of Karnak and Luxor. Fun Fact: Karnak is the largest worship site in the world. The Room of Columns has over 100 pillars, all decorated in rich carvings and paintings. It blows my mind that PAINT survived the elements for 4,000 years. 1 point Pharoahs, 0 points Dulux Solarguard. It's hard to describe, but if you imagine a shitload of elaborately carved statues, pillars and obelisks, spaced evenly in accordance with the passage of the sun, then you get some sort of idea of the grandeur and precision of the place. Luxor temple was a waste of time and money. We could have seen the best bits from the road. If it was the only temple in these parts, then it would be impressive, but since it's one of the smallest, it's a sort of non-event. It's funny, for years I've wanted to go to all these places, but now that I'm here I've found myself thinking 'Oh, another statue. Oh, another carving. Oh, another bit of ancient paintwork. I'm bored.' THIS THOUGHT PROCESS IS AWESOME because it means that I've seen and experienced so much that it has become normal. Who would've thought that that would even be possible? That seeing ancient relics would turn into 'meh' moments? It's something that I really appreciate because it means I've soaked up ever iota of information here.

This post is quite the wall of text, but the week was a busy one.

The next day I went to the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens and Hatsephut's temple. KV (King's valley on the maps) is a desolate place, and hardly a place you'd associate with Pharoahs. Our guide sounded like a wikipedia soundbite, without all the useful information, so I ditched him and walked around the valley on my own. I saw the tomb of Thutmosis III and it was impressive. There is intricate paintwork on every flat surface except for the floor. On the ceiling there are yellow stars painted on a deep blue sky, on the walls there are protective spells for his journey to the afterlife, on the pillars are grid lines for work that was never finished. It was a really deep tomb and unbelieveably humid and stuffy, but it was well worth the visit. There are more stars underground in KV than there are in the sky above Cairo.

The next tomb was that of Tutankhamen. It's small, but it's a nice place. I got there before the crowd and spent the time looking at the few paintings on his walls, the quartzite sacrophagus and the King's body. He's quite a short guy and his nose is squashed from the mummification process. There isn't a great deal to see down there, but the experience is unforgettable.

Ramses I next. It's a shaft which ends in a decorated burial chamber. Lots of yellow paint on the walls, and lots of representations of the Pharoah and Osiris. The theory is that he died a sudden death, so the tomb could never be constructed in the manner in which it was intended. Even the coffin looks rushed.

The last tomb I saw before I left was that of Ramses IV. It's the largest publically-accessible tomb in the valley, and also the most richly decorated. The ceiling is at least 4 metres high, the corridor at least 4 metres wide, and the tomb about 50 metres deep. Everything is perfectly square and everything is perfectly painted. The hieroglyphs are dead-vertical, the spacing of the stars is even and the angle of the tomb messes with perspective so it looks alot bigger than it is. The sacrophagus is an immense block of granite, and it doesn't take a genius to work out how they got it there; they dragged it. There is none of the 'how did they get such a large object down sch a small hole' here. It looks deliberately rough too. It's as if the king said, 'I want to use that lump of rock for my sarcophagus', only to have the architect say 'But sir, the tomb is too small', to which the king would have replied 'Then make it bigger. Then make it bigger again.'

When you look towards the burial chamber from the entrance it looks like the final destination of an adventure film. There, at the end of a highly-decorated tunnel lies whatever it is the hero is searching for. The sarcophagus sits there like an immovable toad, and I love it.

Hatsephut's temple was impressive due to the government's restoration effort, but I'd seen most of the stuff in other places. I was never interested in this temple when I was a kid because it's so similar to the structures built by the Romans - colums, columns, columns. It's a pity we couldn't get into the temple inside the cave because from what I saw through a security grill, it's really deep and richly decorated. The paint looks new. I think I got a photo.

Queen's Valley was just like the King's valley, but smaller and less impressive. The one standout feature was a picture of the dead queen dancing with her husband. It's the first intimate moment I've seen on a tomb or temple wall. On some level, the Pharoah and his wife were still people like everyone else, regardless of what they told the population. Went back to the hotel after lunch and got screwed around some more by the money-grabbing bastards that seem to be around every corner in this country. We caught the train back to Cairo at 9pm, had a drink in the bar carriage after arguing with a waiter about whether the carriage existed at all (he said it didn't, just so he could overcharge on drinks), then went to sleep. I slept like a baby and we arrived in Cairo at 9am. I spent the day with a Scottish bloke, Bradley before heading out to a fast food dinner with Christian and a few girls who were staying in our hotel. One of them was an Indian/Kiwi/Aussie who spoke with a mixed accent. Clear Aussie one second, a touch of fush and chups the next, only to be followed by a couple of lilting indian words a moment later. She swore and drank and generally caused a spectacle. I'm not sure the Egyptians knew what was going on. Good value, and has some ties to actors in Bollywood. Yes Chris I got her details and can give you info on that when I get home. You might be able to catch up with her in Mumbai in November. Yes, I know, you worship the ground I walk on.

That's most of my Egypt adventures in a nutshell, but I have way more stories to tell when I get home, including the one where I was *this* close to punching an 8-year-old right in the middle of his stupid little face.

I leave on a jet plane tonight and get back at some point Monday.

Egypt - A Conclusion will be up in a few days.


Not on a train, never again, feel like a drain

So, we got really drunk on the train from Cairo to Aswan. The night started fine; we went to the bar carriage and ordered a beer and had a chat with some Americans who were visiting the middle east. Nice enough people, about 18-19 years old. One of the girls, bless her, still thought that she could make a big difference in the world just by wishing it, and that she had all the solutions for the middle-east conflicts. I stand by what I've discovered this whole trip: When you're 18 years old, you don't know shit. Christian bought a bottle of red, and it was very bad. So I drank half of it. This was on top of the two cans of beer I had earlier. They serve the beer over here in 500mL bottles or cans so it's a bit different to home. The other glaring difference is that the beer here is quite bad. After I was half a bottle and two beers in the hole a swarm of english teenagers swarmed the car with their two teachers. Turns out they were on a 1 week tour of Egypt. 2 teachers for 14 kids aging from 14 to 16. Madness, but the teacher struck me as one of those dedicated enthusiastic types, so maybe he won't go crazy. Time will tell I guess.

I was sitting cross-legged on the floor of the train, beer in hand, floaty shirt moving around me, my beard occupying my face. For a split second I had a giggle - I felt like some wiseman or something surrounded by acolytes. I had 6 of these kids sitting around me on chairs asking me about Australia, my trip, and a whole bunch of other stuff. It was pretty cool having people hang on every word on a train speeding through the night. They were genuinely interested by what I was saying (and no I wasn't drunk, that bit came later), so I was happy to tell them anything they wanted to know. Made me think I should do that extra year of study (ack) and become a teacher. They left after an hour or so and I had a chat with their teacher and called him mad about 5 times. Those kids from Manchester were going to have a hell of a trip, I just hoped a few of them stopped dicking around long enough to appreciate how lucky they were. When the kids left I told a German couple that my ambulance was broken, that I had saurkraut in my leather pants and that I was a sausage. It's all the German I know. From here it gets a bit fuzzy since Christian bought me 4 more beers and 2 whiskeys. He didn't want to drink alone you see, so I was happy to oblige. We talked shit for hours and met alot of other travellers until the world went blurry. I walked back to our sleeping carriage, got to my chair and passed out. Woke an hour later feeling deathly ill and stumbled towards the back of the carriage where the banos was. The door was jammed shut so I stumbled on further till I reached the gap between carriages. I don't know which car it was, but I do know that when I left there was quite a bit of terrible beer, wine and whiskey all over the ground.
Hands up if you've got drunk on bad Egyptian beer on a train in the middle of the night somewhere in the middle of the desert, then thrown it all back up again.

*Puts hand up*

When I woke at 7am I felt quite bad really. 5 hours sleep, too much booze and no air-con made me hate life just a little bit. Compared to my travel buddy however, I was feeling rosy. He blew $150 USD on piss in a few hours and looked like he had been rolling in a gutter. When we arrived at Aswan he gripped my backpack and I led him through the crowds, across the streets and into the hotel. Our guide led the way for me and asked if we wanted to see the High Dam and Philae temple that afternoon.
'No thanks, we're quite sick at the moment'
'A cold, sir?'
'...something like that, yes.'

When I got to my hotel room I couldn't work out why I'd got so sick off of a relatively small amount of alcohol. I should have been buzzed but not sick. It was then that I remembered that I'd taken a couple of tablets to stabilise my stomach about 12 hours before getting on the train. I checked the box of meds and, lo and behold, saw this message: 'Do not consume alcohol for 48 hours after taking this medication'. Oops. There was my reason for feeling so ill. The meds, coupled with bad Egyptian beer (Luxor Brand) was a sure-fire way to make yourself feel as bad as possible in the shortest amount of time.

Aswan is where the wonder of Egyptian organisation was revealed to us. Back in Cairo we'd forked out $270 USD for the trip to Aswan/Luxor. This included all transport, a 2 night sail on a felucca and 2 nights in hotels. Sounded pretty reasonable. The thing is, they wanted us to share a room in Aswan. At this, Christian was suddenly awake with a loud 'Fuck that shit!' and we got separate rooms. The day was spent dozing. Important note: I didn't sleep, I just drank alot of water with re-hydration salts in it. Was right as rain by 6pm. I was told that we needed to be in the reception area at 3am to go to Abu Simbel by bus. I didn't sleep that night and Christian opted to stay at the hotel, so I went to the lobby alone at 3am and boarded the minibus filled with Italians and 2 americans. We drove for 15 minutes and stopped at a security checkpoint. We did not move for 45 minutes. We just parked the bus and the driver got out to smoke. So not only could I have stayed in bed longer, I also had no idea when we would arrive at our destination. After standing around for no reason we boarded the minibus and set off on the 3 hour trip across the desert to Abu Simbel.

Australia does not have desert. Jordan does not even have desert compared to Egypt. This Egyptian desert is like the surface of Mars, just yellow. Remind me to tell conspiracy theorists that there is no *real* Mars Rover, they just spray-painted Egypt red and sent the robot there instead. We arrived at Abu Simbel later than expected (because of the dicking around at the checkpoint) so we missed the sunrise there. Abu Simbel is a nice place, but to be honest I was disappointed. Maybe it was the heat, maybe it was the crowds, maybe it was the lack of sleep. I'm not sure. It was impressive for sure, and the statues were beautiful, but I wasn't filled with that sense of wonder that has been so familiar this trip. I think that I've imagined visiting Abu Simbel alone on a cool day, which is completely unrealistic. The heat here is baking - it's about 35 degrees every day this far south, and the tourists SWARM over the place. It's nice, but it would be infinitely nicer to be there on my own. The other downer is that the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities is hell-bent on setting up light shows at all of the major monuments. I have no problem with a few spotlights on the ground pointing up at the statue - it would look impressive at night, but it would still be simple. What the dickheads have done though is mount spotlights on Ramses' knees. His fucking KNEES. As your point of view scrolls across you see untouched statue, untouched statue, untouched statue, ancient statue with two large spotties on his lap. Doesn't seem too respectful to me.
Still, I'm glad I came, because it's something I can tick off my list.

The bus ride back was interesting because we were driven through a small sandstorm by a dickhead. He nearly rolled the bus because he tried to swerve nothing at 140km/h. If I were in a Lotus Elise, this would have been simple, but since he was in a minibus packed with tourists, it wasn't as simple a feat. Got back to Aswan, packed my stuff and joined Christian in the car for the ride to the felucca.

For those of you playing at home, a Felucca is an Egyptian sailing boat. What we were told in Cairo is that we'd spend 2 nights and 2.5 days on the felucca and sail down the Nile from Aswan to Luxor. There would be no more than 8 people on the boat, there would be proper toilets along the way and we'd see temples on day 2. What actually happened was this:

We arrived to find 10 people on the boat already, plus the three crew. So 15 people on a boat designed for 8. Of these 12 passengers there were 5 separate pairs/groups, including a family consisting of Mum, Dad, 7-year-old son, 10-year-old son. Each group had a different itinerary, none of which were followed. It turns out that the travel agents in Egypt tell the customers any damn thing to get their money, then whack them on any old vehicle and push them into the river. The first day was cruisy. We were relaxed, the wind was good, and there was an air of relaxation over the boat. We stopped for an hour so the captain could pick up beer and water. I did not order beer, just the water (to be safe). This transaction should have taken 15 minutes, but we were there for an hour. We sailed further down river to our campsite where they parked the boat and served us dinner. Lunch had been bad falaffel and a salad which we'd seen them rinse with river water. Dinner was some sort of tomato stew type thing. It was not filling or nice. Still, it was food. It was here that the captain told us we'd be visiting a camel market the next day. No we bloody weren't. He wanted us to pay to go in, clearly so he could get his kickback. We all argued with him alot and he was defeated. Everyone was tense because we had no idea where we were actually going, and had got the definite feeling that we'd been screwed.

I put on Christian's spare Galabaya (Arab man dress), wrapped my scarf around my face, and settled down to sleep, crammed between Chinese Phillip and English Tom. A boat designed for 8 does not sleep 12 very comfortably.

As an aside, I'd been awake for 38 hours and I wasn't feeling heavy-eyed or drained. I was running on fumes, and it was fun. No floaty feeling, not sickness, no 'oh god I'm so tired' feeling, just a state of ultra-awareness. It's the longest I've ever stayed awake in one stretch.

Friday, April 17, 2009

My Egyptian Adventures

I haven't had access to a computer for 7 whole days and before that I was keeping myself rather busy, so here's the first update in nearly two weeks.

I've been to the Cairo museum, I've been to Khan Khalili market, I've been to Aswan, Luxor, Abu Simbel, The Valley of the Kings, The Valley of the Queens, Hatsephut's Temple, The Temple of Karnak, The Temple of Luxor and a small book market which I found on the other side of a metro station. I've met some fantastic people and I've met some arseholes. I've met Australians, Scots, Palestinians, Egyptians, Americans, Germans, Poms and Kiwis. I've seen some pretty cool stuff in the past two weeks and had both great times and rather unpleasant times.

The Cairo Museum is a dream come true for 8-year-olds everywhere. The entrance hall is filled with statues, the largest of which sit at one end facing the entrance. They have serene looks and wry smiles on their faces. It's as if they're quietly laughing at a joke that no one will ever hear again. There are granite sarcophagi dotted everywhere and the floor is dominated by a fresco painted for the heretic Pharoah, Akenaten. Off to one side, slightly away from the other statues is a large beautiful granite bust of a pharoah. The face is staring through you and about 4,000 years back in time. The thousand yard stares of SAS soldiers are nothing compared to the thousand year stares on these statues. The serenity on their faces really gets me. It's as if they're saying 'I know something you don't know, and you'll never find out either.'

There are statues and paintings and models everywhere you look. Papyrus texts cover the walls of the stairwells and gold jewelry fills rooms. Coffins stand against the walls, and 4,000 year old paintings sit there as if they were conceived yesterday. The highlight of course is Tutankhamen's wing. Every treasure from his tomb sits in resplendent glory, surrounded by gawking tourists and shouting guides. Everything though pales in comparison to the famous mask. Someone once described Tutankhamen's mask as 'the most beautiful thing created by man' and you know what? I can't think of any challenger at this point in time. The gold is polished to the highest shine and the lapis lazuli inlay glows blue. The eyes are unparalleled in their realism and I stared at the damn thing for about 40 minutes. I could have stared at it for hours still, but the tourists were swarming, so I left. It sounds sort of silly, but after a while I got tired of seeing these artifacts - it's a sensory overload. You see a few treasures here and there in museums all over the world, and you yearn for more, but here it's a whole different ballgame. Every artifact you could desire is here (as long as you don't request the Rosetta Stone or the Book of the Dead) and it's exhausting. Some of the black granite statues are mesmerising, and would look quite nice in my house, and some are just the same as all the others. To find gems amongst the 'dross' of the museum is fantastic, because you know you've seen the very best of the best.

I met an American guy here at the hostel. His name is Christian, so I call him Christian. He calls me Mike because that's the name of the hotel manager and is one of the only names he can remember. We checked out the Giza pyramids later in the week and I managed to get inside the Great Pyramid. The thing is colossal, truly truly colossal. The entrance looks like a narrow sandstone cave, but after 15 metres or so it narrows down into an even smaller red granite passageway. I'm guessing it's barely 1.2 metres square, so it involved a bit of bending over. This tunnel goes for 20 metres or thereabouts before opening into the Gallery. It's a 3 metre wide, 10 metre high, 40-50 metre long passageway made of massive red granite blocks. The masonry is perfect and the colour flawless. I don't know about other people who've been in there, but I was filled with a sense of wonder - another thing to tick off my Bucket List. At the top of the passage is a short corridor which leads to the burial chamber. This final chamber is 10 metres long, 5 metres wide and at least 6 metres high. The only thing in there is a small sarcophagus. It looks lonely, almost as if it was never meant to be there in the first place. The large box is dwarfed by the room around it. After a couple of minutes in there the lights turned out, so I was essentially stuck in the middle of Khufu's pyramid without a star to steer by. IT WAS AWESOME. Some people in there freaked out a bit, but it was a hell of an adventure, sweaty and oxygen-poor as it was. When the lights came back on I slowly walked out, soaking everything in. I get that uplifted feeling even a week later when I sit here typing this. I was in the pyramid. Epic.

Christian and I checked out the Khan Kalili market too. It's a thousand-year-old market which sits in Cairo. If you want to be surrounded by exotic smells, clothes, people and language, then go here. Just be prepared for the hassle. I'm not claustrophobic in the slightest, but my heart did start to race a bit as the stall holders swarmed around and tried to drag me into their store, 'La, halas' is all I could say (No, it's over/finished/done in Arabic). One joker told me that he 'didn't care about my money, just my friendship' as he tried to charge me 270 LE (about $65 AUD) for 2 head scarves. We got down to 80 for two when Christian said 'This guy over here wants 40 for 2'. Problem solved. I swear I've turned into a magpie. I don't look at jewelry at all at home, but as soon as I pass a jewelry shop here I go 'Ooh! Shiny!' and gravitate towards it. The thing about the jewelry here is that alot of it is modelled in the same style as the artifacts that were taken from tombs, so there's the wonderful mix of gold and lapis lazuli. I wouldn't wear it because it's too flashy, and I wouldn't buy it because gold is bloody expensive, but it is nice to look at. I almost want to build a damn nest out of the stuff and fluff my plumage.

One guy had the nerve to grab my arm and drag me towards his shop despite my protestations. I grabbed his bicep, gripped under the muscle and said 'No. Halas. Understand?' He let go. that's a problem I've found over here, and I'm starting to understand why the middle-east struggles with the idea of peace. It seems that the only language these people will listen to come the end is the language of threats or physical violence. I don't like that. I liked floating through Peru, smiling at everyone and being open to new experiences. Here I have to shut down a bit and play the stone-hearted arsehole. It can be fun, for sure, but after a while I get tired of being on edge. At any rate, I found an eye of Horus for my travel necklace that I'm putting together and went on my way. Our driver, Achmed spent the day trying to teach us Arabic. Christian is quite the linguist, so he knew the right questions to ask. We can now say 'Where is [insert word here]' 'I want [insert word here] 'My friend' 'That' 'BAKSHEESH! (Give me a tip!) and 'Gay'. I'm not sure how many times I've told an Egyptian that Christian is gay, nor how many times he's returned the favour, but it's happened ALOT. Isn't learning fun? I think the highlight was yelling 'Gay gay gay gay gay' out of the car as we drove through downtown Cairo. Apparently this is considered very offensive. I like to think we're doing our part to improve international relations with the Middle-east.

I met up with Rose and Linda again on the 10th. My travel plans had changed which meant we could catch up again (travellers can't take day trains anymore, so it meant spending an extra day and night in Cairo). We went to the Mohammed Ali mosque, some other mosque, the Egyptian museum where I looked at tut's mask again then picked up Christian and went out to dinner at some Egyptian place. The food was pretty good, but part of my kebab dish wasn't chunks of meat, it was more like mince that had been cooked on a stick. It looked like a dog turd steaming happily on a bed of lettuce. Food fit for a beggar. From the restaurant we went to the river where we took a felucca ride along the Nile thanks to Mostafa, Rose's Egyptian friend. Sailing the Nile is nice at night; there are no crowds, there isn't much sound, the sky is clearer, the lights shine brightly, and there are hardly any Egyptians around either. I'll get to why the last one is important later on. From the felucca we hit the market again. Christian bought 2 Galabayas (Arab man-dresses) and I grabbed a couple of floaty shirts. Took ages to find what I wanted, but I got it in the end and paid too much because I couldn't be arsed arguing with a shirt seller at 2am. A change had come over Rose and Linda since I'd last seen them. When they left they were fairly floaty and tolerant of most things, but since their return from Luxor and Aswan they wanted out. They didn't tolerate the hassle for a second and they seemed pretty on edge and angry. Some of the negative energy rubbed off on me, and some of the shine of Egypt was tarnished a bit. It wasn't their fault though - I'd been walking around with a Kiwi the day earlier, and he too had come back from Luxor and Aswan steaming. He was sick of the constant Baksheesh and conmen too. It was more the fact that I was reaching the end of my tether too as far as Cairo was concerned and I needed a change of scenery.

We said goodbye to the girls and went back to the hotel. The next day was the day we slummed around and prepared for the night train to Aswan... Ah the night train to Aswan. That was an... interesting trip. More on that in the next update tomorrow.