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South-East Asia (2019) Thailand

The Return of the Lobster-tan

It were blazing days and mi amour and I resided in a beauty of a room on Koh Tao. The government controlled travel agency had taken care of us these past days and it took time off of our hands. Though I had been reluctant, getting overwhelmed by the making of advanced plans, the Dutch in me had risen when I learned the financial benefits it would have. And despite the incompetence that had shown after the escapades in Khao Yai park, manifesting in an indolent and impatient man’s errors being brought to our blame and the wrongful bookings we had to fix, it was a pleasant experience.

Now, what brought us to this deserted island was our need for harmony from the amassing of nationalities we had witnessed in the Thai capital. A break-away from the tourists, if you must. Given, we did have the national park, however we decided to change the scenario. And where better to go to than Koh Tao, an island stamped with tourist-free by T, an old co-worker of mine. During our ferry there however, and a short amble about, it began to sink in that perhaps T’s definition of “Not so touristy” does not resonate to that of mine. Que sera sera. It took us a long haul to get to the island from the national park, including a night on a bunk-bed-train listening to a heavy-sized American babbling, making flirty remarks towards an uninterested local and grunting phrases and snores whilst awake, or sleepwalking, or both. He was a strange man without boundaries. Anyhow, we eventually arrived on the island and our nights there were booked and the room was lovely! The room was of such comfort we were convinced to have scammed the government – which might explain why she initially accidentally booked a night too few and our accommodation wasn’t the promised pricier cottage at the beach. But since we got our agreed upon night back and the two of us didn’t march and fret at the thought of a minute’s longer walk to get to the sandy border, there was no problem. So, what was the rush, eh?

The second we had fully settled in, the drinking and eating commenced. Something we lacked with the skipping of meals due to odd restaurant times in the national park. I cultivated the lost mass through burgers, pad thai, rice and noodles, sets of Singha and Changi with an occasional cocktail and mojito. We scoped out about every restaurant for a dish and only once our craving bellies were satiated we began the scavenging of activities.

One that had caught our lingering eye was a boat tour around the island, inclusive of snorkelling and swimming side by side with fishes and possibly turtles and sharks whilst admiring the corals. As the enticing title allured you here with a story of the lobster-tan, I find it near superfluous to point out that the seas that day lacked sharks. The turtles appeared at a bare minimum – none we saw – and the corals weren’t even a fraction of the wonders we witnessed at previous dives. I try not to constantly refer to the magical archipelago, however having experienced the corals and marine life in the Philippines, snorkelling elsewhere hardly wowed. As kickoff was the picturesque island near the port we embarked the boat from. That was where the trouble began.

Walking the wooden planks heading towards the viewpoint, my shoulders and neck were introduced to the flaming sun leaving a burning tingle that would increasingly escalate as the hours passed. Therefore, majority of our time on it was spent in the shades we could find. Leaving the island in the horizon behind us, the little boat graced over the waves heading from stop to stop with a sun peeking under the roof from an angle. And here, there was no safe haven to hide from apart from a simple towel. Needless to say that during the snorkelling and swimming, we bore no protection from it entirely.

So, as we began that day with the highlight, the day from there on came down to drifting through the salty air as we bit by bit dried out with a swimming break here and there. The club of foreigners began to redden as the day went on and I possible stood out the most, as a beacon of redness. The offshore lighthouse. The return of the lobster-tan. Nearing the end of our trip we wound up bonding with another victim of the fierce sun. She was an American as well, although she fared far better as company than the babbling train-goer and would soon participate in the restaurant-spree. The moment the boat returned to port, we all rushed out to retreat to our accommodations for a longed for cold shower and rest before proceeding to partake in the island’s gifts.

This trip had been unforgettable for reasons unlike most trips. The reason we could not forget, was that weeks thereafter we counted the blisters covering our skin. Bubbles of air dotted all over our necks, shoulders, backs and arms. Our time on beaches thereafter was spent with clothing covering every bit of skin including the face as the slightest ray touching it burned like hell. Showers, hot or cold, were unbearable. The shifting of our bed sheets or the mere light touch of a shirt sliding onto the shoulders caused a stinging pain. Our days at a paradise of an island was a time of chasing shades. That sun and its burn had us in its grip for weeks to follow. We became strongly aware of how dangerous and damaging the sun truly can be.

With that, as I hilariously look back with a sly smile, I do wish you tread with care when it comes to the sun and its strength. Do not underestimate the damage it can do to your skin.

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Personal Favourites South-East Asia (2019) Thailand

In search of the giants

Mo, a small yet resilient woman, lead us through the thick jungle. Wielding her long and sharp machete, she sliced away the lower hanging branches and the bushes taking over the path. Swiftly and without sound she paced on whilst her head moved in all directions. She was using all the senses she was gifted with flew over the paths carrying the eager of a kid on exploration. Then in sudden freeze, she’d bring us to a halt and hold her hand up to say both “quiet” and “listen”. The ground shook at sporadic beats. I held my breath out of intensity awaiting the stomp to come. BoomBoom… With every shake I felt the presence of something huge. Something of immense size. Moments afore, we had stood inside the footprints left by this creature causing the vibrations. A quiet shiver glided over my back as my eyes gazed through the jungle. Going off of the sounds, we knew surely that it was close. They were close. A whole bundle of it. Excitement grew, placing my mind in those of the explorers of Skull Island, awaiting the appearance of King Kong. But nonetheless, despite size and proximity, the thickness of the jungle had them well hid.

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South-East Asia (2019) Thailand

A (dreadful) journey into Thailand

At the airport near Amsterdam, the haul of hell to come had shaped its form through the airline Lufthansa declining my attempt at checking in due to a lack of proof of exit. Naive me had been cocksure that, similar to the precedent visit, no one were to bother controlling and thus clueless I marched the queue-less counter as I waved my passport. Soon after, my lady on the other side of the world armed with a laptop and I on my handy, scavenged the web for the cheapest exits possible. After all, it was unsure were I to actually depart on the particular date. Thank heavens then, when we found a bus hauling tourists over the border for a bargain of a price.

Fast forward through the weeks of apartment-sitting, meeting up with old and new local friends, a trip to KL and catching up with a mate under the comfort of drinks in a familiar town and then a final gloom gaze into the apartment. A period that had flown by followed by the final footsteps ticking on the floor of a place we called home as I exit one last time. Out of the premises and into the Grab taking me to the pick-up point where the journey away from home and into travels will commence. Fully aware of it being an excruciating long one, I had been more than slightly discontent with the humid heat striking onto backpack-wearing me causing an already drizzle of sweat to soak my shirt. But the heat is a fight fought on the daily in these harsh countries.

A minivan spurted passed and stunted into a halt before letting me board. A handful of foreigners greeted me and within the hours I learned that I was the only one with a drive into the double digits. What did I get myself into, I wondered, as the distance between Bangkok and I crawled shorter.

As a weary and lost bundle of people we made our way through customs and a hint of anxiety hung on our shoulders. Fortunately, the procedure had gone swift and smoothly and moments after the van was burning rubber on the potholed road of Thailand. A country massively distinct from the country of take-off and it filled my belly with an enticing excitement. The hour we drove to my stop I therefore spent glaring out of the window and at all that we passed by. After manoeuvring myself out of the van, the driver seated me into a wobbly, plastic garden chair for the hour to come. From this point on I would be the sole foreigner and from here I could join the locals within a double-decker carrying a blessed a/c. Now was the start of a dreadful ride passing the fifteen hour mark of head-bobbing, neck-breaking positions and constant switching of positions.

Then, at last, finally, the driver announces the arrival in Bangkok and my miserable joints get their longed for stretch as I stumble out of the vehicle. A crowd of vendors and taxi’s swarmed like seagulls hunting for food on a sunny day and I pushed myself away from the inflated rates and into the lobby. Although the ride had ended and the soil underneath me belonged to Bangkok, I was far from a shower and warm bed. What awaited me was a cruise to the airport followed by some hours of loitering and a tiresome embrace with Kath, who’d land some hours after my arrival. What was perhaps the least enthusiastic reunion followed by yet another hours-long drive into the city for the search of our hidden hostel located in one of the alleys minutes walk from Khao San Road. There, though asked to wait before entering our room, my body screamed relief as they allowed me into the showers. We were back, back into travels and it felt exhausting and exhilarating. Up next, we were to explore touristy Bangkok.

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Malaysia South-East Asia (2019)

A journey of Malaysia

Initially, I welcomed my girlfriend at Penang’s airport with Grab at dial. This was after roughly 2 months apart, which, for us, is a relative short period. Bearing smiles we had tread into our apartment and embraced our new, temporary home to give that ‘living together’, something we hardly got due to distance, a solid try. For weeks, we did our things together within the same confined space and took care of the daily necessities. We weren’t on an exotic island nor in a bubbly city, but a simple, regular town. Some eateries near, a supermarket a walk away and a mall within few arms length away. But that was it. We weren’t together under the guise of explosive passion and riveting experiences that peaked our adrenaline possibly clouding over what is a love existing purely because of the adventures. It is scary to think of, but it’s a possibility undeniable. However, living a regular life, though no day with this Filipina seems to be regular, has left me with nothing more but a longing. A longing of more dull evenings spent planning the coming day’s groceries or munching the local snacks during a binge-session. There is something about a soulmate that simply beats the wandering life in all possible ways – though it doesn’t mean the end of its spirit.

For those reasons, when the final days came peeking around the corner, I felt a bit empty and sad to bid farewell to our apartment – though I’d be back for few lonesome nights later on – as we headed towards Kuala Lumpur for a weekend trip afore her flight. She was heading back to the archipelago for a wedding and we turned it into a fun trip. We got to burn our palette on spicy Indian before pushing through the humid heat to find our tiny hotel located in the corresponding part of town consisting of Indians. Now, as we were camped at the planned-to-detail perfect spot in town, for both getting around and an early exit to the airport, I had the perfect chance to make up for my last trip. On this side of Malaysia, the peninsula, I can confidently say that I have explored most of it. However it was the capital with its thick air and loud engines where I wasted little time and today we’d make amends. So, with an eye on the time, we rode the bus to the batu caves following the footsteps off all preceding tourists. We ambled up the stairs and back down to head into town as a darkened sky became the black blanket over us. Indubitably, as it was my love’s first visit, I guided her to admire the Petronas twin towers and take a swift shot whilst passing all the salesmen wielding lenses. Against the night sky’s black palette, the two towers stood magnificent and bright and precisely as I remembered.

That night, we squeezed one another extra tight. Because come morning, we rushed to the airport where we kissed goodbye once more. However, this time around it was a kiss less morose and leaning towards excitement. A wedding attendance for her would soon follow by a rejoice in Bangkok. But first, it was a man’s night out and the perfect town for it was miraculous Malacca. And what makes Malacca such a wonderful town is the same reason Malaysia gets all my appraisals; the ambience and the people. For they are the opposite of Butterworth – no offence. The moment I wandered back in the familiar streets amidst many a tourist and local all I faced were genuine and affectionate smiles and waves and greetings. Sitting at a diner for lunch, a local Chinese couple joins my table and soon we converse away before they paid for my meal. Waiters and waitresses carried broad smiles without the intention of a possible tip nor to come across professional. People here were loving and warm. Genuine. Transforming this historic town into a place where everyone can feel at home.

Though my return here was not for this reason. It was a cold brewski with an old friend of mine that called my name. And though I had been sorrowful that my preferred bar had changed owners and no longer carried the same homey feel with a push of interaction with others, for the short time it lasted it felt delightful to sip the same beer in the same old chair where my buttocks had left a print over a year aforetime. This with a guy responsible of a friendship that led me to Pakistan and a mind full of riveting tales on the island of Langkawi. A guy I gladly call a friend and if any, one of a lifetime long. I hope by now, at the time of writing, my fellow LDR-er has had the chance to go abroad just like I did.

Overall, my second time in Malaysia had been completely different. I stayed somewhere unknown and mainly visited the known. Introducing Kath to places I had been, people I had befriended and generally what I loved about the country. New places had been explored, however it wasn’t done in a traveller’s attitude, but one that resembles a weekend trip to the next town or a drive to the park. It felt more comfortable. Thank you Malaysia for allowing me diverse experiences.

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Malaysia South-East Asia (2019)

Malaysia; The credit it deserves

If only I had burned out some months before and Malaysia would have gotten more credit. But no, my burnout peaked after a late post on the Philippines and with that, Malaysia was already in the past. Three whole months wrapped up in a single blog post. Was it a country so dull then? Is it lacking of enticing tales? Neh, unfortunately my creativity was what was dull and lacking. All that was written had been a story of hitchhiking, as I could not imagine a story involving anything other than the unusual. In my mind, no memory performed well when written, however that mindset has changed and the answer to the question on Malaysia: No. Malaysia was everything I could wish it to be. Hence the time spent there. Hence the return to it. Strangely enough however, when asked what to visit, though there are many allurements, I was shockingly speechless. Nothing stood out intensely to the liking of mesmerising beaches, snorkelling with whale-sharks, lonesome islands boasting their flora and so on. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot about Malaysia that is breathtaking, picturesque, impressive and on. Some of the most incredible sunsets took place there, the Petronas stand tall and mighty, Cameroon Highlands provides a charming view of the world of tea and towns like Malacca and Georgetown offer architecture, art and history that is more than fascinating. But, what it comes down to, it’s not what I reminisce about when afar and definitely not the reason I returned.

The appeal to this peninsula lays in the resemblance of being home. A home that is away. It’s the homey feeling that made me initially extend my stay and book a ticket after draining jobs and a growing longing for my love. The locals and their amazing cuisine do their part by welcoming each and every person setting foot on Malaysian soil. A dish served with a smile is their motto. At least, I dare to think so. Everywhere you go, smiles are granted and dishes are to delight. For these reasons, it made only sense to this time around stay put in one place and coat the insides of an apartment with our precious belongings. Incontestably it was not at the throw of a dart, as our residence came with a planned view of the nearby harbour perpetually hauling its passengers for few dimes and pennies from side to side. That other side was Georgetown, Penang, where I knew the streets like my hometown. With a place so familiar and filled with comfort for me a boat-ride away, I felt valorous enough to dive into an unknown town by the name of Butterworth to unpack our backpacks.

The haul there had been long; as a lonesome trailblazer I initiated the journey from the airport in the Netherlands. A foreshadowing terror when I was denied at check-in, lacking an exit-ticket not requested or asked for last time, resulted in a 20 or so minutes back and forth messages and exchanging information with Kath ending in a booked bus proving exit from Malaysia. Delightful. From there on, the saunter to my gate went surprisingly effortless and before I knew it, the sleepless flight had started.

After an endless voyage, the wheels of the – second – plane finally graced the runway and with a squealing sound the arrival was announced. It was a late afternoon and I knew I had two options at this point: One, I depart the airport in search of a cheap hostel, stay there a night resting in the comfort of a soft bed and then during twilight scurry off to the town of destination. Two, head to the bus straight away, taking on an immediate six-hour drive in the hope I get to rest and arrive in the dead of the night to only wait until the hour grows at an acceptable stance for calling someone awake. Those that know me well enough will know I opted for the second choice.

And these same people will know my exact luck coming in the shape of a night’s visit from Insomnia. For reasons unknown, this devil’s terror only appears at worst timings and such was this bus ride after an already lacking of sleep. The air-condition was on, and though I praise the lords when the first breeze of cool air gently strikes my skin, hours in I had regret the sweater still recessing inside my backpack as now the bundles of hair on my arms had risen into a goose-bump and my body occasionally shivered. Once we arrived, wistfully precise by clock, the night had struck and the town was asleep. As the apartment would officially be under my name by afternoon, I felt it unfair to waken the owner on the night before and therefore I watched the hours pass inside the harbour’s cooled building and even managed to sneak in a tiny, awkward nap. Then, delirious on a growing hunger and need for sleep, I contacted the pick-up and within the hour I stood inside the spacious room. With a stomach expected to remain satiated and restrain from protesting on a single meal doused with the wrong spices taken half a day ago, I hadn’t felt the greatest. But, to be back on known land under these rough traveller’s conditions with mere days separated between me and my love, the feeling of bliss overshadowed the wailing body and after quenching my thirst by hosing a glass of water down my throat and gorging on a snack of dry cereal, I waddled to my bed carrying a smile. It feels great to be home.

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EU

Dutch Venice and its sour inhabitants

Known as the Dutch Venice to those coming from afar was to me a place of drinking sour milk and getting slobbering kisses as the nearby town of attraction correlates to that of my grandmother’s home. Back in the day, we’d eat our sweetly custard from the bowl-shaped plate still carrying potato and broccoli remainders while they indulged in the sourness the kid-me couldn’t possible keep in unless someone had generously doused it with a rain of sugar. Some years after grandpa passed, she moved, within the same town, to an apartment with caretakers present. Logically, my girlfriend has cycled, taken the bus and been by car plenty a time for a visit, however t’was nothing but a tease as she witnessed the congregated Asian masses stumble out of the buses with lost eyes wandering through the clear blue sky in wonder where to head. She had been fed a fish smothered with onion in a traditionally vertical manner as foreigners took pictures surprised by the act. We walked a few meters along the water, yet no more. Something was there that appealed to a great lot and she was eager to venture in their footsteps. Soon, she’d finally find out. And coming in the right, or for some indubitably wrong season, the tourists will collectively, en masse, storm the waters with their lacking sailor’s experience and turn the waters into one grand bumper car boat attraction.

Same would have been for us, barring the weather being indecisive. Unsure whether the day wanted to be cold and rainy or let the sun shine through, it struck enough with fright of the water to give us free way. For take-off, I gripped the gas and took off with the speed the little boat could go. Minutes away, my love reached for the cold bottles brought along to quench were the sun to announce it appearance. And for the greatest part it did. Cruising the waters once again, I felt calm. The bouncing of the so-called whisper boat over the waves caused by a strong wind and the coinciding breeze going through my hair and onto my face. Truth is, though many, if not all locals complain about the overabundance of tourists, we are fairly lucky here. Surrounded by beautiful pieces of nature which we get to share with overly excited people from all over the world sharing their journey on to family and friends through mesmerising pictures and tales crowning the town into a worldwide known spot. A reason our train station, a stop at a hole of a town, gets crowded and busy as people climb onto the platform to scuttle off to a bus, taxi or rental bike. People come to our town for an allurement and they get charged heftily for it too, along with anything and everything within the tourist boundaries. We milk these innocent people, yet all we do is whine and complain about their presence.

Sure, they have hard times understanding the rule of one-way traffic and have to get used to on water left being right and right being left causing them to bump other boats and sides. Some get lost and find themselves in someone’s home simply because they do not know better. They’re only humans, wishing to feel that same wind pressing up against their cheeks as they breathe the fresh air and admire the cute and cosy houses. To me, having something people would commute hours for to experience and with that invest their money in businesses, is something to be grateful of, even if it means giving up a piece of serenity during certain seasons. After all, don’t we Dutchies do the exact same during summers in Bangkok? Phuket? Bali? Anywhere the sun shines and beaches call? So I suggest, that next time busy hour strikes, take away the sour hat and smile. Be appreciative of the love the town gets and don’t smear all tourists due to the few bad apples. Especially to the ones profiting off their visits. Life would be a whole lot better for all if we stopped behaving like sour, crabby humans that do nothing but complain.

I didn’t mean to take this post into this direction, but I guess I am leaving it as is. What is a place you consider rude towards its visitors/tourists?

Funnily I wrote this before the pandemic and now it seems they got their rest. Though undubitably plenty are not pleased with the decrease in money spent by tourists.

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EU

A Filipina on Vlieland

Laying on my back at the bottom of the bunk bed, I watched the upper bed through my slightly opened eyelids. I was slowly returning from a dream, awakened by a soothing, serene sound. Tiny droplets fell with the thousands onto the canvas of the tent-house causing a choir of acoustic plops throughout the entire place. Most shivered at the thought of a rainy day on their one week away, however, the peace had been a party for the two of us. On these days, we’d slam open a book, sip some delightful herb-bitter and warm our feet with the little heater. With a smile, granted by the absence of work, I rolled to my side and leaned over the sleeping beauty. As I moved, the blanket descended off my shoulder into my lap and along with it, the warmth absconded and in lieu the cold transported over the island by the fierce wind had taken over. A wind all the while brushing and sporadically banging with increased force against the sides of the hut. Despite the accommodation’s main build being a thick tarpaulin, which made the hits of the wind echo at high amplitude, it seldom struck us with fright. In a way, it brought comfort. I used one hand to move away some of the hair fallen into my lover’s face and with a freed ear, I whispered her awake and into the start of our day.

Manoeuvring myself out of bed, I placed my feet on the wooden floor and bent forward to avoid bumping my head as I got up. In my near birthday suit, I shuffled out of the bedroom and into the parlor well-lit by the sun some hours into its day of work. The planks underneath my feet were coarse as it had a texture of sprinkles of sand. However, it fit well with the setting and as all did on this island, it brought out another piece in a world of nostalgia. In this tent-house, though it grows bigger with the years, many memories of mine rest as the family would take off from home and remain a fortnight here. In illness and joy I have wasted away hours on this island. Surfing down the dune of marram grass, gaining speed with each slide as the flattened grass blades would become smoother, before taking a dive head first into a bunch resulting in one of the blades stinging into one’s eyes. Then bawl for a split second before jumping on the board again to redo the whole stunt. Making friends solely for the durations of the stay without knowing when the last time will be. Munching pizza’s at the nearby restaurant, getting sand in every hole and pocket at the windy beach, poking the pink, slimy jelly-fish and simply doing what kid’s do. Standing in front of the door leading to the porch, I viewed the path of sand leading downhill and reminisced the time I had dug a hole with as only purpose to make a trap by covering it with a lid of green. The innocence of the child had not taken into account the chances of major injury and was simply out for laughs and giggles.

Soon, my love would join me and we’d sit for a breakfast to start the day. From the camping’s store, we had bought a carton set of mini toppings. This included minuscule portions of jams, sprinkles, peanut butter and chocolate paste. To compromise for the healthier, along with it came sliced cheese and bits of ham. But in honesty, our life on the island was far from the healthiest. Before noon had hit, a can of cold beer was popped open and so was a lazy chair in the warming heat of the sun. Long, sauntering walks on the cold, windy beach would be enlightened by the warmth of the liquor herb-bitter as we splashed our bare feet in the absolute freezing water. Peculiarly on a hosing day such as today, one finds a quick excuse to seek the better end of a bottle as the body wishes to flee from the biting cold. Besides, who plays Yahtzee sober? As I pondered when it would be acceptable to suggest a drink, she poured me a cup of tea and looked stunning as ever while doing so. The advantage of a make-up-less girlfriend is the akin beauty in the morning being indistinguishable from her last night’s glow. It felt special to take her away to a place of peace and comfort that for the kid of me had always been a getaway.

And befittingly, a day before we had walked the footsteps of young me as we got onto the massive jeep racing us over the beach towards the Sahara of the North, accompanied by a jolly man singing his ballads on an accordion. With a bit of luck, the day had been dry and all that poured was the sand carried like clouds by the wind forced up as the grand vehicle pushed with speed over the sand. The insides got soon filled with sand and that included the pockets of my jacket, out of which I could fish grains of it even weeks after. Parents covered their children securely as the sand was cutting and whirled around into the eyes of some. Which was a pity, as the sights were pleasant to admire. Passing by a military base for target practise of jets, we headed towards the refuge of shipwreck victims turned into a beachcomber museum. Now, it bears all found on the long strip of sand, including bits of sunken containers’s cargo that flowed ashore years ago and all else that came with shipwrecks. Inside stood dozens of jars filled with water and sea creatures resembling the serial killer’s cabin in a horror movie. After the jester’s tour of the shed was finished, as group we traversed to the far end of the island from where people admired the neighbouring island and equipped with binoculars viewed the bathing seals.

Though not all we did was pertaining my childhood and past activities. Bringing my present and future to the past and guiding her through an island of memories, it made more than sense to create new ones and on rented bicycles we did. Traversing for surprisingly long as my child’s eyes had only remembered the island for as far as my trembling legs carried me, we peddled a distance with a map as guide to both far ends of the island. A haven of nature with plants, shrubs and flowers beaming with colour, whistling birds and gallantly galloping wild deer in a bunch. Seeing a side I hadn’t seen or recalled, I was cordially shocked. As treat for our inputs, we entered a homey restaurant and indulged in a lovely pie along with cups of tea. And though the day ended in a soaking splash as the sky tore open with buckets and buckets pouring down, it was a day of peaceful bliss.

It was hard for the travellers to not wander about and with the beauties of the island it is understandable. However the days we didn’t, beginning the day calm and loitering around the tarpaulin-cabin or ambling to the shop for fresh croissants, we embraced the lack of sound. The camping was shared with only few others due to our perfect timing and with a job draining me with the passing of days, we welcomed rainy days and listened to the singing. We welcomed days of reading books and playing games. To be honest, for short-term, the opposite of hauling heavy backpacks through humid Asian heat before embarking on the nth vehicle for a duration in the double digits to do it all over again and an off-day including an hours-long hike in the jungle, it was great. With the only downside being a beach demanding layers and layers of clothing to be worn.

Where do you catch your breath? What is a safe haven, a place of comfort and serenity for you? For me, it’s not always a place with literal quietness.

Categories
South-East Asia (2017-2018)

Dubai Airport

The Pakistanis did not leave their habits at home as they took off from the Islamabad airport. I noticed this when upon landing in Dubai, the insides of the air-plane at seemed as if someone had run by with a torn garbage bag. Despite the effortless attempts of the stewards and stewardesses to collect everyone’s empty bottles, plastics and other junk, the passengers had hoarded it, to at final minutes litter the entire place. Baffled by the disrespect and lacking of courtesy, I stepped over the left-behind mess and made my way to the exit. Initially, I was supposed to have a few hours on hand, however a sudden change with my airline had left me with half a day in this capital of emirates. Unlike in Oman, I had no intention of heading for the city and attempted to make the airport my temporary home the way Tom Hanks did in the Terminal. For that reason, I took my time and calmly sauntered through the gateway leading me away from the plane.

The last bit of traveller’s spirit had dripped out during my stay in Pakistan and I had been yearning for my home. To make these long-some hours pass by more rapidly, I had entered the well-known Hard-Rock cafe to only be reminded by my second home. A young Filipina welcomed me into a stool and with a broad smile stood before me awaiting the order. As I asked for a beer from the tap, she raised her eyebrow and with an apologetic tone she asked for my passport. A melancholic-doused smile appeared on my face as I slid a hand into my backpack searching for the passport. The hint of her accent had made me beam, however it reminded me I was far from seeing my love again. As she confirmed my age, explaining that here the age is 21 and above, my eyes wandered around and I noticed many a Filipina and Filipino galloping around the bar either scribbling down orders on their notepads of people coming for a meal accompanied with music or carrying trays bearing tiny glasses with inside a translucent liquid most likely to numb the senses and crush the filter of words.

Lily poured me one of the finest crafts, as she answered the question on my mind; “The Filipinos basically run this airport.” I could find a trace of pride when she talked about all her fellow compatriots that went through the same effort to work alongside her on this side of the security. She sighed with a smile as she placed the beer on the coaster. As soon as she did, the tiny droplets on the outside of the tower of a glass descended down and wetted the coaster. With Pakistan’s beer coming in a can and tap beer being scarce in the Philippines, it had been some months since I had a beer so mouthwatering. Taking in my first delicious sip of the golden drink that came in perfect to speed up time, my thumb and index finger folded open the receipt which I studied intensely. Unexpectedly, I had a hefty amount of rupees left from my trip and that what I could, I had exchanged moments before entering the bar. With my wallet full of dirham, I was unaware of its worth. Possibly the distraction of the Filipina and her reminding accent or the bewitching keg of draught beer had me forget the number one rule of travelling; to always check the currency.

As I choked on my lavish beverage upon seeing its costs in my own currency, the bartender had returned and asked me if I had ever been to the Philippines, now that I knew her nationality. This question had been a gateway of topics that had us conversing for the majority of my beer. A beer I nurtured due to its price. Apparently, she and I had a lot in common as we both lived in the torment of a long-distance relationship and the same issues as well as thoughts on how to cope with those. As we talked the time away, a black man had watched us with his perfect, white as snow teeth shining from the dimmed booth he shared with Lily. He wore the same uniform and stood alongside her, though rising far above her, thus I assumed he worked there as well. However he was obviously not one of her compatriots, which rose my curiosity. Seeming eager to jump into the conversation, he grabbed his opportunity when she had to trot off to continue work. During this, I had shamelessly ordered a second posh beer, waving away my guilt by stating it is my last travel money anyhow. Picking up where she had left, the man engaged me with tons of questions before proudly, and warranted to do so, explaining how he, a man from Nigeria wound up serving drinks and meals at an airport in Dubai.

But nearing the end of his tale, he got interrupted by a cheerful blast resonating from a speaker somewhere near. He sighed and chuckled as his eyes averted to the ground. “It’s time”, he said in a voice of subtlety leaving me with a mind of questions. With long strides he marched towards the entrance where there stood a small podium. Taller than all his coworkers, he joined them by stepping onto the stage when a familiar sung began to play. Seconds later, I emitted a quiet cackle as I watched them all dance the YMCA. Where the Pakistanis took their habit of littering into the airplane, the Filipinos carried there culture of singing into this filipino-controlled hard-rock cafe and it was an astonishing phenomenon to witness. Upon the finishing of the song, I had a laugh with the two before parting to lounge on one of the comfy laid-back chairs I had spotted some hours before.

I began to feel light-headed, in the dreamy way, as the two tall beers had sufficed to take me on my empty stomach to a state of tipsiness and dreaminess which had made drowsing off relatively easy. Despite a half-day being immensely long and usually seeming to drag on when that time is spent waiting, my Pakistan-Netherlands journey had been one of ease and comfort if you take into mind that I had been gone for 18 months. 18 months and no member of the family, no animal nor human had fallen ill or gotten injured, no grave events had occurred and I was a day away from seeing them and holding the two Belgian Shepherds I cherish so deeply. Going on trips to see my close relatives before heading to the shop for my oh-so longed for unhealthy cravings. To actually ride my rinky-dink bike again that by now, as I write this belated post has been replaced for a superior one. Perhaps most importantly, to be sleeping in my own bed again. With that thought, I fell asleep with a smile on my face.

Categories
Pakistan South-East Asia (2017-2018)

A kid in a snowball fight

A minivan stood outside, parked in front of the house with the gate still closed. Loud chatters and cheering coming from a floor up filled the house alongside the stomping and fast steps of tiny feet. Cousins and nephews and nieces had come from afar to spend these merry weeks here and the result was serenity coming in scarce. Shy smiles hid behind parent’s their legs and some more brave had tried their English while others brought me tea. But today, on this early morning, everyone was up and at it, as the mentioned van would soon be filled to the brim with children, some mothers and, of course, me. Wrapped in layers, thick scarves and warm gloves on their hands, the bunch wobbled in enthusiasm to the gate like a family of penguins. Waqas, knowing the kid’s tendency to regurgitate during the excruciating long haul, had snug his blanket extra tight and faked his deep sleep while I was getting shoved into the dark corner of the van to avoid constant passport control. Though aware of the chundering children, with the promise of seeing the white we no longer get in the Netherlands, bless global warming, and that on this special day that is my birthday, I had mentally prepared myself for flying chunks and stepped inside.

Getting used to spending hours on end inside these cages, as Pakistan is a vast land, had proven one of the hardest tasks. Swinging from the left to right on the unending meandering roads with as music the sounds of multiple throats spewing and spitting acidic saliva or parts of breakfast made me regretful. “Danny, how are you?” was the phrase echoing the inside for the dozenth time as the kid with his knowledge of English consisting of a total of three words had demanded once again for my attention. Yet, when I returned the question he’d come up blank to only repeat the question. Later on, he’d simply steal my answer, but for now he rotated only between this question and an unintelligible shout. An absolute adorable kid however. Exhausted before arrival, I sat with my stomach twisting praying for the fresh air and with it an escape of the sounds and smells.

Then, some hours in, snow had been spotted and with that, we were close. Halfway up a mountain we parked the car and went for a slippery walk, with a chain of children holding hands. We kept counting heads with every turn and step to keep an eye on all the kids as they had begun wandering left and right when the first snowball had been airborne. It flew high and landed straight on the back of the sister-in-law of Waqas. War had commenced. I leapt forward, sliding into one of the trenches next to a small stairway leading to a building as I got half of the children on my side and preparing me an artillery of snowballs and, cruel as they can be, a handful of ice-balls. The latter, I had sneakily chucked away before turning the sky into a blanket of white as I flung hundreds of balls towards the enemy. Unsure of where they were landing, I had launched my ammo on the hoodie of the youngest of the bunch, followed by a mouthful to one of the mothers and a maid with white trails covering her jacket. Soon, I had imitated Italy and switched sides as I attacked the ones providing me with snow. Soon, the platoon of minions flanked me and covered me in snow until I finally waved the white flag of surrender.

Exhausted at the end, we retreated down to a cafe for lunch to metaphorically smoke the Indian peace pipe. I was out of breath, but it had been an exciting feeling to relive the moment of grasping the cold snowball, gradually leaving tingling sensations in your fingers eventually leading to the numbing, before you douse your temporary enemy in the precious snow. Then you’d return inside, leaving the cutting, icy outside as you warm your frozen hands on a hot cup of tea with a fire blazing. Today had felt like such and along with the tea had come a surprise as a cake with lit candles came brought out. Together, me and the other celebrant blew out the candles and made our wish. Though, to have been able to play like a kid in the snow as the age grows taller, had been a wish come true.

This concludes my posts on Pakistan and with it, I wish to deeply thank all who have been involved in my trip. Waqas, who shared his room during my stay, drove his car hundreds of kilometres to show me place after place, endured the North with me to admire the massive mountains and faced the secret police when a suited man became nagging regarding the strange foreigner. And his family who welcomed me inside, made me feel at home with small to big efforts and with whom I have had many conversations. This includes close family and further relatives. Thank you all and you are welcome in the Netherlands.

Categories
Pakistan Personal Favourites South-East Asia (2017-2018)

A caffeinated drive down

The ending of the story

Returning from the top, my slumber had passed and in a drowsy state I let my stubbornness fade and at last agreed to seek medical help. Waqas had swiftly deviated his mocking jesting into genuine concern and was on the fence whether to continue his banter. He had persuaded me to go to the doctor, despite part of me still believing it would pass. Since not even Ahmed, the fastest driver of Pakistan’s North was capable of getting to the capital within the coming and passing of the night, a small town in the mountains had to suffice. After some hours of adequate driving pass, we entered said town and through the noisy and crowded streets we zigzagged to our motel of the night. According to our driver, from here, it ought to be possible to return to the home of Waqas if driving from dawn til dusk, given that breaks are kept to a minimum and he drove his foot into the pedal. We unloaded the car before heading to the chilling and bare hospital. The moment I set foot into the grim building had been when I felt a slight terror overcome me.