The Adventures of a Part Time Professional Gypsy (and her ginormous teddy thing)

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Take any Old Year - Turn it Stupendously Epic

I’m not sure how I’ve survived 2012: I’ve fallen 869 times, crashed 3 motorbikes, blown 17 bicycle tyres, licked any and everything, hitched 2687 km, cycled 2953 km, motorbiked 3214 km, sailed some 13 060.8 km,  shipwrecked, probably contracted rabies, and today celebrates 396 days of unemployment... not to mention surviving the predicted world’s ending...

I’ve always pretended to be ballsy. I’m not particularly - I’m a woman, we don’t have balls. I think my could-be-any-race-group complextion (currently leaning towards Nigerian), calloused bare feet and mangled mop of gypsy hair gives me that caveman-style untouchable aura. But I bruise, I bleed, I have sleepless nights of worry and I’m generally just as scared as the chickens who live across the road from the KFC... 

A year ago today I was sat on a friends balcony in Singapore staring worryingly at the world map wondering where to go next... My goal was a flightless mission to Spain, maybe. But the terrified little girl inside had only a giant teddy bear and a gianter backpack to cling to. And the bank account probably wasn’t very happy already.  A pep talk with myself, and excessive amounts of prayer later I missioned off into the abyss and let life unfold. 

It’s easy to have a good year when you play it safe. You know what’s going to happen. You know who and where your friends are. You have a secure job where you can budget and plan bonuses. You have a cellphone contract and you know that when you walk into a local supermarket or a restaurant that you’ll find the brands and the flavours that you’re looking for and if you don’t you can at least speak the language and ask. But an excellent year involves a bit of roulette.

You never know what you're going to eat next....
“Never try, never know” is one of the many catch phrases of Asia (normally used to promote drug sales and prostitution). You don’t. Think back to the year that’s just past and how many times you turned down offers that made you nervous, conversations with people who smelt funny, travels to places you’d never heard of; how different would life have been if you’d said ‘yes’ more (or, in a few selective cases “no” more)?? 

After 2 and a half years of being away and 5 months of sailing, I arrived home. We moored in Richard’s Bay (South Africa) a little over two weeks ago after some incredibly hectic seas and a good many sleepless nights of holding on for dear life. I was looking forward to seeing friends and family and familiarity. I kissed the ground (which tasted very similar to dirt the world over, if you were wondering), and spent a couple of hours bouncing up and down in happiness (before I wore myself out and took a 4 hour power nap). It was so good to be back but I’d subconsciously already decided to run away again. 

The purple show's the radar's reflection of the storm surrounding us

The tattered remains of our gib

The crew and the friendliest immigration man I've ever met who gave the biggest welcome hug
I missioned to Cape Town (car-bus-car-car-car-car-bus) for the first sibling reunion in 3 years and found a whole lot more than I’d bargained for.  The best year of my life (so far) just got even better and ends with me dating my best friend of 10 years.... And that’s more than definitely worth sticking around for.

The fam

Aren't we an attractive lot???

I’m about to give the realer world another shot [GULP] - but this doesn’t for a second mean that the adventures are over. It simply means a new sort of gypsyism and I’m both excited and terrified - I have no idea where 2013 is going to take me.

And now it’s time to check my bank balance for the first time in 2 years - this is officially the scariest thing I’ve done all year... 

Happy 2013!! Go crazy. Be awesome. Say yes a lot. Come Visit. Don’t die.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Out of the Abyss : Still a Blip in a Vortex of Blue

[continued from]

Week 3 and still we hadn't caught up to the drowning sun. The heavens still had balls of fire to fling about. The ocean still held suicidal fish to die upon our decks. I suppose that's what happens when you average the incredible speed of 6 knots (tenish kilometers an hour). And then finally, we saw the southern cross and it felt like we were getting somewhere, almost.

Sailing into the sunset day after day - not a bad thing to do really...

We busied ourselves with reading and darkening (My skin's gone black[er], My hair's going ginger) and tried our hands at baking and sewing and carpentry and art and poetry: (Sorry to inflict this on you)

With Reunion alooming
I feel my heart glooming.
How will I stand
On dry stable solid land

Three weeks of wobbling
On every waves throbbing
Holding on for dear life
Catching falling sugar and spice

With every windful gust
Forward Fiddler was  thrust
Sailing from rise to sunset
And still we're not there yet

For each item we break,
Something new Jim must Make
And whilst we sit alurk,
Kirk's always hard at work

A hole through my lip
A big bruise on my hip
Even my halo's gone tarnish
And the boat really needs a varnish

Deaths aboard have been plenty
At this rate, soon the seas will be empty
For while flying fishes astound,
On deck it's only their corpses to be found.

Computers keep dying
People's hands keep frying
We fall left right and centre
And soon may need dentures

But some day we'll arrive
And our challenge will be land to survive.
Halloween chinanigans - nothing in comparisson to the puppet show that came with "Memo day"

Just some of the incredibly drool inducing cookies baked at sea

I really tried to join the mohawk madness - but [despite littering the decks with masses of it] I have to much hair....

Deaths 17 - 21 [20 was a mangled wreck]

And then, in the early hours of day 24, I saw the lights... "Land ahoy". We were but a mere brick throw away... The winds died. The waves died. We sat bobbing motionlessly[ish] on the glassy waters. It took us a whole day to pass Mauritius.

The first land seen in nearly a month! - A mind blowingly beautiful sight!

We spent another whole day staring at the distant Reunion before we finally furled the sails and fired up the engines. Dolphins escorted us the final few miles and, finally, on Wednesday November 21st : 26 days (619 hours and 37 minutes) after licking land farewell, we finally stepped ashore on La Reunion, France: a blip on the map littering the Indian Ocean somewhere between Madagascar and Mauritius - technically in both Africa and Europe...

Greeting land with a lick

It's a massive shock to the system finally being on solid land again - you can put things down and they don't involuntarily move; you don't have to trod cautiously, constantly holding on with one hand, expecting to be flung in some arbitrary direction at any given moment - you can eat without having to hold onto the salt and pepper and your plate and chilly sauce and water and vegetables and chair....

Weirder still, after a year in Asia, is being back in the Western world, back the first world. You don't see whole families and their livestock on a single scooter, you don't have to use squat toilets, people don't yell out "hello mr, where you go?" or "masssaaaaage-a?" or "you want boom boom?? dr bob? you want to fly to the moon?" You don't have an endless mob following you around trying to sell you wooden frogs and chicken giblets. 

The most amazingest yet is that in our little floating world there were no mutinies, there was no keel-hauling and no scurvy. Let's hope the next stretch, to Richard's Bay (South Africa - the homelands), is similarly epic!!!!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Into the Abyss : But a Blip in the Ocean

"When I grow up, I wanna be a pirate." - Former me, age 5ish...
And I really did. I wanted to swing by ropes from boat to boat waving plastic swords (all swords are plastic when you're 5ish) demanding cookies and cake... that's what I wanted to be.

 But out in the ocean, the last thing you'd like to meet are them pirate types - especially when you're delapan ratus delapan pulah delepan (Indonesian for 888) miles away from the closest splotch of land.. There's no calling the coast guard or radioing a ship for assistance. There's nothing. And in the real world, pirates aren't nice. Or so I've heard.

Stocked up with canned vegetables, a freezer full of chillis, and enough tofu and tempe to circumnavigate the globe [and the rest of the planets] at least 27 times, we licked land goodbye (18:42 pm, Friday 26 October) and prepared for the great vortex of blue that awaited us.

Approaching our last wake point before 3512 miles in a straight line...
The wind whisked out of Bali just in time to celebrate captain Kirk's birthday, which was conveniently located the day before Halloween which was conveniently located the day before Christmas [island] - which you have to celebrate - which created a plethora of convenient celebrations to mark the start of our Indian ocean crossing.

All through the first week, dolphins leaped at our bow and spun through the air and awed us with their magnificent beauty as we chased the sunset. One tanker overtook us, one tsunami warning buoy beguiled us, one soap wrapper floated by. Apart from that, there was nothing.

And then the winds picked up and the dolphins were lost in the 3-5 meter swell; lee cloths went up because life became a constant 30 degree lean to the right, and it's hard to not roll out of bed at that angle. We saw one bobbing coconut and a plastic bottle, but for all we knew there may well have been treasure chests lurking nearby - the seas flamed like a furnace.

Bathing (by hanging onto the stern ladder) became restricted to holding on with both hands, and only when there were at least 2 people to supervise; it's not as easy as you might think to furl the gib, lower the main, start the engine and about ship to rescue fallen sailors.

The captain trying to ski swim off the back of the boat.... the captain was the only one crazy enough to try this... the captain was also almost lost to the sea...

Electronic devices died left, right, over board and centre. The deck became littered with flocks of flying fish (54 found dead - one rescued).

Storms came and went. Movie nights were either done verbatim, or moved indoors.  

One hand was constantly clinging on for dear life whilst the other caught falling people and produce and toilet seats. Make that falling everythings - things learned to magically fly every time we heeled at the mercy of a giant wave. Our bodies glimmered blue with bruises.

17 50 379 S; 086 45 777 E, Day 12, I flew across the galley and somehow succeeded in piercing my tooth through my chin. It hurt a lot. It bled a lot.

The healing of my pieced lip... and no it did not make me turn yellow... I think that may just be the camera.

White waves mesmerised us by day, shooting stars awed us at night. Our trusty swivel, sea force stove kept our stomachs well sated.

Shortly before our furthest point from any land (902 miles away from Cotos Keeling and 902 miles away from Chagos), we spotted a small fishing boat -- the last thing you expect to see out in the ocean. Another two vessels purpled on our radar. Pirates??We sat nervously watching... they eventually disappeared.

At 14:04 pm, Day 13, we hit the half way to La Reunion mark - 1756 nautical miles in. Pop pops and tom thumbs and a message in the bottle went off. Hugs did their rounds. And then we all sat back down and carried on being mesmerised. We still had a very long way to go.

The excitement that is beer oclock (especially on time zone change days, where 5ish oclock came around twice)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Some Epic Title... [The End of My World]

TEN…. NINE…. EIGHT… Thoughts are racing around my head like a giant disorganized herd of pregnant water buffalo playing ice hockey with sharpened samurai swords: Are we actually ready? What have we forgotten? Will we have enough food and water and basic supplies? Will the back ally stitching on our three reefs of broken sail hold the 5800 miles home?

It's amazing the work that goes into taking down a main sail

It's even more amazing how you can finally fold it small enough to fit in a dingy...

SEVEN…. SIX… Asia is incredible…. I miss land… and there’s so many many epic people about, so much good food to eat and too many good surfs to be had… so many places I haven’t yet been…. So much more to see… SO much more to lick… and I’m back where I started 11 month ago (And it’s been a flipping exceptionally incredible 11 months)… Australia’s so close I could almost swim there… it’s not too late to abandon ship and turn in the wrong direction again…

My beautiful home.... S/V Fiddler

FIVE… FOUR…I haven’t been home for two years, what happens if people have changed too much? Or worse; what if they haven’t changed at all? Will people even recognize me? Apart from my Nigerian skin tan, am I even still an African? 

THREE… TWO… There are so many people I meant to talk to, so much I had to say [I talk a lot]. How many more birthdays will I miss? How many more people will get married? And engaged? And born? And intoxicated? And knighted? What major events will be happening around the world in the next month? Maybe the world ends and we get left behind....

This picture has absolutely no relevance to this blog

ONE: It’s the very end. Six months of direction change, hitching, boat work and island hopping has finally bought us to the ocean crossing. In the next 24 hours, we‘ll have done our final supply shopping, stamped out of Indonesia and we’ll be raising anchor and launching into the unknowns of the Indian Ocean. Our world is about to shrink to the confounds of the ship and the marine life that surfaces. And the stars. That’s all we’ll have until Reunion. There’ll be no popping in to grab some fresh bread and chilli. No skyping mum a quick “I love you”. No facebook (oh! The horrors!). No doctors (hopefully we won’t need them). No sneaking in a non-vegetarian meal on the sly. No human interaction apart from the crew (luckily they’re a really nice bunch).

And while I’m so terrified that I couldn’t bring myself to sleep last night, I’m pretty sure this is exactly what I’m meant to be doing with my life right now. I know we’ll be okay. Coming back to the boat last night after 3 whole days (“tiga hari” because my Indonesian’s almost practically fluentish) of land, I felt like I was coming home. And I know that for the rest of the world life will go on as normal as we blip up and down on the vortexy abyss of ocean. But know that you’ll be severely missed dear human, and if you get a chance, spare us a thought, a wish and a prayer. I’ll post out the infrequent message in a bottle…. And then see you on the other side. See you in Africa.   


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Do you Speak Lion?

Us human types are always on the run. As an African, I learned to run before I could walk - it's the only way to dodge the lions and hippos and the tokalosh.

And then you get older and you learn how to run away from the wooden spoon [after you've taught a toddler to pee in your sibling's dustbin on a daily basis (unfortunately I was the sibling with the dustbin)]. You learn to run to the smart kid who always does the homework while running away from the teacher who knows you have not. You learn to run away from bullies. From darkness. From dodgy looking people. From hijackers. From big spiders. From the tax man. From commitment.  

Us human folk run away from our fears. And as a result, some people learn to run very far and very fast. Some don’t ever stop running. But they don’t normally run to anything in particular. Except maybe the bar (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – I’m writing this at a bar and it’s quite a lovely place really and it has free wifi and a beach and human life and everything)

I like to think that everyone suffers from stupid irrational fears. I enjoy pretending to be hardcore, but underneath my goofy smile lies a terrified bundle of nervations ready to implode.

My fear of a boring life has kept me running circles round the globe for years. It’s also birthed new fears: sharks, dragons, plane crashes, human traffickers, sinking ships and Australians.

My fear of tomatoes has terrified me the most and led me to Le Tomatino in Spain where my every bodily orifice lay coated red for months to follow and has temporarily led me to be a vegetarianist. I’m proud to say that only a few days ago I willingly added tomato to my burrito. I’m practically cured.  

Granted some people claim to run for fun. But this is a lie because A) running just isn’t that fun and B) they're actually just running away from unfitness and unwanted body fat. There's always something chasing us.

Instead of running, what would happen if we just sat down and learned to speak lion?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

How to Lick a Dragon

I’ve spent a good portion of my grown-up life chasing mythical creatures: mermaids, unicorns, leprechauns, “the one”, and now a new sort of quest has evoked me – the dragon hunt.

Because my flying academy came to a very abrupt end when I was caught jumping off a two story wall (age 8), I still can’t fly. This makes getting around a whole lot harder than it ought to be. But life at sea is a close second.

It took a good few days of sailing to get into the dragony waters. And in an attempt to psych myself up for the chase, whilst on a 4am night watch, my ipod fell to the depths of the ocean half way through ‘The final countdown”. I really hope the mermen below have good taste in music.
Our beautiful anchorage in Rindja island
Rindja (or Rinca or Rincha) island was as mysterious as we’d hoped; a desolate island mass teeming with deer, wild horses and macaque. We took on a friendly guide A) because we had to and B) Because a man with a big stick to fight off dragons is better than no man with a big stick to fight off dragons.

The quest continued.

One. Two. Six. A cluster lay sprawled out in the shade. Almost lifeless – like statutes. The magical dragons were as big as I’d imagined – their piercing stares shot shudders down my spine.

Fortunately, they didn’t move much. They stood up only to defecate, and then they’d lie back down after a few lashes of their long forked tongues. Komodo dragons do not shoot fire. This was a disappointment.

We ventured deeper into the island.

Solitary dragons lay hidden in bushes [and the young in trees] guarding their nests and digesting their bellies. They eat but once a month, but when they do eat [monkeys/ buffalo/ horses/ humans] they eat everything – fur and bones included. It probably explains their hairy poo.

Licking hairy dragon poo - apparently it will take up to a month to see if this  action has done any permanent damage to my being

Komodos may appear to be the laziest creatures on earth (after the people in the world's tax and traffic offices), but they run at 18 km/ hour and often just administer a single bite to their prey. They then follow the victim for up to two weeks until death by infection consumes. What a horrible way to go.

[At least it' a pretty place to die]

For two days we explored the island, marveling at the violent landscape and marvelous wildlife. For two days we kept our heartbeats up - hoping not to fall victim (or lunch). For two days I tried to find the courage to lick a dragon. And then finally…

[Photoshop is a powerful tool!]

I lived.  

Monday, October 1, 2012

Equatorial Escapades : Homeish at Last

The purple seas swarmed rigorously about me as I tried in desperation to locate south and; more importantly, the captain. Clearly the breathing of fresh Southern hemisphere air was too much for him to handle, and, only a few feet before the equator, he’d hurled himself mercilessly over the railings and into the ocean depths. In an attempt to save the sharks his indigestion, I’d leapt overboard too.

The swells were bigger than they’d looked from the deck, but there, in the distance glistened what could only be his beardfulness (or I suppose, a very large, hairy fish). Eventually Fiddler returned to rescue us – but Kirk’s craziness had contaminated all the crew and now everyone wanted to swim the equator, so we about shipped and crossed the line again; his time doing it the same way we came into the world (lucky none of us drifted far out to sea – if we did happen to be rescued by a passing vessel, it would have taken a lot of explaining and I don’t speak Indonisian, Malay, or Chinese - yet).

With the northern hemispherian crew making their first entry into my world, it’s almost understandable that they should think wearing underwear on the outside appropriate. They seemed to think everything would be wrong way up in the South. So much they have to learn; in the South the air is sweeter and the beer is crispier, people smile wider; the world is just about as it should be.

Equitorial pancakes
other equatoriaal pancakes
It’s been a long run too – all the way around Sabah (Borneo) to Brunei, and then back East - around the tip and 928.8 Nautical miles (164.5 hours of sailing; 29 vomits) later, we entered Indonesia. We stopped off to pick up Memo, our newest crew member, and to explore remote islands and jelly fish lakes and the unfathomable beauties of the ocean depths before carrying on South for the equator. 

Jelly fish lake, Kakaban - squirming about with billions of stingless jelly fishies - one of the happiest experiences of my life 
Tarakan, our first port of entry into Indonesia
Why I am the only one licking a customs official, I don't know
Some of the many many many smiling Indonesians

 The North didn’t let us go easily either. First the pulleys that held our dingy up gave in and we almost had what would have been a very unfortunate loss. Then our main sail ripped and we lost the first two reefs leaving us with only half a sail. To add to the trauma of our final day as northerners, the toilet paper took a dive in the sink – oh, the distress! 
The near loss of the dingy
The ripping of the sail
The remaining half...
 The past week’s added another 645+ miles to our journey and thrown us soley to the mercies of the ocean. We ran out of bread - we learned to make our own. We ran out of fruit – we resorted to scurvy stopping vitamin C tablets and popcorn (yes, it’s a fruit). We ran out of contact with the outside world – we learned to survive without Wikipedia, facebook and all other human interactions.

It’s a very simple life out here – a life of freedom and subsistence.. Sunshine and storms. Winds in every wrong direction and sometimes none at all (at which point you drift in the currents, normally backwards). 

The windi meter on a very very long backwards sailing night
 We’ve just arrived in Makassar (Sulawesi) to restock supplies and extend visas. Soon I’ll be attempting my first steps back onto solid land – there’ll be real humans again – I wonder if I remember how to pretend to be civalised? (Wow, I can’t even remember how to spell the word). The thing that scares me the most however is the land sickness. Ten days at sea – my longest stretch yet - and this is just the prelude to the one month ocean crossing that lies ahead.

It’s good to be back in the home hemisphere and homeward bound at last.