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

Friday, March 30, 2012

Noble Steeds of Yonder Years

Some days you close your eyes so tight and wish that you were somewhere else - somewhere far far and even further away... I've done a lot of that of late.

It's been a manic couple of months and with my passport nearing expiration and a friends wedding on Koh Samoi fast approaching, there were two reasons for fast tracking and heading back to Bangkok (for the seventh time) via public transport*.

*'Public transport' of course being rickety buses and tuk tuks and sungtaws and trains and that sort of thing... the kinds of vehicles most people see only in museums....  Please note how the word 'VIP' doesn't appear in any of those modes - similar to the word "shocks" and sometimes the word 'brakes' too is a foreign concept...

Anyway, whilst public transporting along I've thought long and hard about noble steeds of the yester years and the joys of having your own 'wheels'....

[cloudy dejavu like fade into the past......]

Charlie... sporting three flat tyres (simultaneously)
First there was Charlie. A 933cc Suzuki Alto that carried  us the 17 000 plus kilometers across 30ish countries and deserts and rivers and mountains from London to Ulanbataar... with only 21 flat tyres on the way, he was a beaut!

After leaving Charlie in the capable hands of the Christina Noble Children's Foundation and being abandoned by my brother and every other person I knew in Mongolia, I found myself walking the streets and somehow ended up with Margret ThatcherMy little Monglian stud that raced through the hills and valleys and caused my buttocks more agony than it could bear. That said, Margret (who turned out to be a boy) was not a very long addition to my life.

Margret Thatcher [left] - world's most uncomfortably saddled horse 
A couple of years later after mastering the art of hitch hiking (you should try it - just not in inland Australia )
I happened to be walking down the street and bumped into a good Swedish friend. A few days later I inherited Karla  - the Mercedes Benz Camper Van of awesomeness! Karla housed billions of people as she traveled Australia picking up hitchers and strange animals and friends and was great accommodation for random nights out in town. It was sad to say goodbye as I pulled up in the airport and signed her over to a mutual friend [Nathan] just before I boarded my one way flight to Indonesia. 

Licking Karla goodbye before heading to the airport

A couple of months of pottering around had me over public transport and with a good group of people about, we decided to build The Illegal Immigrant to sail from Malaysia to Thailand.

The Illegal Immigrant setting sail for Koh Lipe
 Sadly we misjudged the stretch in the rope, bought cheap wire and didn't take into account that there might actually be waves in the evening and our poor vessel shipwrecked and marooned us on a deserted island.

A fellow Immigrant survivor dragged me across Thailand and through Cambodia and after she returned to the icy lands of Europe I purchased Percy - a 97cc Sanda Boss (which is really just the fakest version of a Honda Dream)
Percy... ahhh.... Percy 
 On Percy I raced the length of Vietnam through villages and cow turd and mechanical faults and I'm still now trying to work out why exactly I sold my little bike... but I did... and that's how I ended up with Mao...
Mao, the Chinese tyrant bicyle

On Mao I crossed from Vietnam into Laos (a particularly hilly route) before speeding up a little to make Bangkok. He's still my little Chinese 'new design bike' but a random I met over dinner the other night is cycling him over to Thailand for me. Let's hope he makes it alive!

[Fancy fade back into modern time...........]

My passport application is in and my wedding is only 2 busses and a boat ride away [I think]. Two more days of hell... but hopefully that will be the end of public transportation for a long while... Apart from cycling to the Chinese border I'm not sure what's next... there's a world of endless opportunities, farm animals and vehicles out there for the taking... I guess i'll wait and see what life throws at me.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Avoiding Death, Elephatitus, and Busses. (In that order)

It was a rough day watching my little Mao (the Chinese tyrant bicycle) be loaded onto the roof of an unroadworthy bus and sadder still watching former cycle buddy, Rohan, pass us three times. It was only once I was on the bus that I grappled with what I'd just signed up for - a 250 km journey that would take 9 hours. According to my googled calculator, this comes to about 27.777777777 km/hr and my Grand mother drives faster than that. I instantly regretted the decision but the rusty doors were bolted shut and the shockless bus was on the crawl.

It gets worse too - by the time I arrived a good many lifetimes later, I felt like death. And once I'd checked into my "China-Food Hotel" and found what used to be a mirror, I discovered that I looked it too. I had elephantitus or something very similar. To put it bluntly, I looked like the incredible hulk - not green or anything but swollen to the point that my eyes ears had almost dissappeared. My legs were tree trunks. My arms Oprah-Winfrey wings. My belly looked like one those African kids with the kwashiorkor and my neck had been swallowed by my shoulders. Worse still my throat had swollen shut and I was struggling to breathe. I climbed one flight of stairs and had to sit down - I was pretty sure I was about to die. Don't worry though, I didn't.

Trying in vain to find a pharmacy or some elephant tranquilizers (which would have possibly worked better) I was talked into booking a tour and I really am not sure why but for some reason it made sense at the time. Regret!!! I spent the whole night tossing, turning, gasping for air, throwing up. Repeat. The morning had me swollener still and I had no painkillers. I had no medication and I had no time to find any because I was already late for my pretty expensive tour.

I’m not sure why I thought a tour of ancient fields of clay jars would have been good anyway. Yes they were big and old and ruinsy, but they were really just pots – old school vases with stale water inside of them instead of pretty flowers. In my state I had little appreciation for the “mystical valleys of Paksovan” and even less for the never-ending bumpy dirt roads that shot spasms up my spine.

6 hours of old pots later I finally made it to the doctor. He wasn’t there. His wife phoned him for me and I tried to explain in a language that wasn’t anything close to English what my symptoms were. The wife handed me a pack of orange pills and another one full of yellow ones and told me to have one of each at every meal. I still have no idea what either are. But I’m hoping for the best…

Then I took the second set of necessary precautions for my near demising state and dragged myself on to a place renowned for recovery – Vang Vieng. It’s the kind of place where everyone has cuts and bruises and broken limbs and accidental amputations and weird drug addictions and massive life problems and well, there I was just about normal.

A couple of hard days of zip-lining, floating down the river, ladder jumping, beer pong, dancing, staying up till ridiculous o’clock the afternoon and relaxing in a hammock I was almost as good as new!

Two things I’ve learned from all of this:
1)    Busses are very bad for you.
2)    Beer is probably necessary.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

How to be a Sort-of-Proffessional-Long-Distance-Cycler-Person 101

So I've been pretending to be a cyclist for a whole week now and I have much advice for all aspiring future long distancesers. And while I know you think I might not be the best person to get advice from with me being 27, homeless, unmarried, and unemployed, and so on and so forth; but I am wise far beyond my ripe old age and my mother says she's proud of me anyway so I think you probably should listen up. Ok? Good. Now shut up and absorb wisdom.

1)  Firstly to be a professional biker type you should probably be in a reasonably sound shape first. You know, maybe walk the dog once in a while or if you don't have one, race your grandma around the block.... even kicking the dog creates some muscle and let's be honest, in today's world every little helps. 

2)  Secondly, and this is a big one, don't start cycling in a mountain range. I know it might sound all romanticized and what not but it isn't. It just sucks. It sucks a lot. But at least there is pretty scenery to enjoy while you throw up from overexertion.

3)  Keep your luggage light. I know a 75 litre backpack might not look like much but it throws your bike a little off balance. I also strongly disadvise the carryance of oversized stuffed toys, while they may appear awesome (actually, let's be honest, they are awesome) when strapped to the back of your bike,  they tend to get stuck in wheels and local kids try and grab them and well, they just aren't quite ideal. 

4)  Don't buy a chinese bicycle. The wheels tend to solidify with the body of the bicycle making riding a lot harder than it should be if not impossible. Also on occasion the handlebars tend to follow there own minds and duck and dive making breaking and gear changing a nightmare and this will conveniently happen while you're racing downhill.

5)  Don't tell you cycle buddy that you'll meet up in the next town when they have all the local currency on them. It really does suck when you ride the last 30 km without a drop of water....

6)  Don't cycle at night. Even if it is only 21 km in the dark... You tend to not realise that you have a flat tyre, especially when you don't have any lights (or you forgot to bring batteries) and then a sporadic thunderstorm breaks out and you get drenched and miserable and end up sleeping under a fruit stand on the side of the street where mosquitoes molestorise you and frogs don't shut up. 

7)  Take some tools with you. Even when you have a puncture repair kit and a spare tube and pump you might just realise at that inopportune moment, 14 km from the next town, that your wheels don't have quick release and have to push.

8)  Buy gloves or grow a pair of man hands - blisters suck and you get to the point where you can't even change gears anymore. Gears are important. I know this now know.

9) Don't underestimate the ability to bruise... you won't know where they come from or why they hurt so much, but before you know it your whole body will be a bruise....

9)  Don't start your journey without realising there is no physical way to cycle over 2000 km in 3 weeks... because at some point you're going to have to start hitch hiking to your friends wedding with your bike!!!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Battered Buttocks

My bum is blue.

Let me rewind a little so that you don't mistake me for a wierdo...

It was a dark and stormy day down in Can Tou, Southern Vietnam and I was boarding a bus. A local bus. A little orange bus that had Teddy stuffed into the luggage department for the first time ever... I was headed for Saigon, a trip that should have taken 3 1/2 hours maximum. 4 hours in I had one man drooling on my left shoulder after he mistook it for a pillow whilst the woman sat in the aisle next to me had donated me one of her plethora of children - the one who I can almost assuredly say needed a nappy change - and placed her on my lap... 7 hours later when I finally arrived I found myself lost and confused in the biggest city I'd visited in a while, swarmed by motto drivers that both wanted my money and my bear. While lurking the streets in search of anything English, I swore I'd never take another Vietnamese bus.

... This is how I found myself the proud owner of Percy, my 97cc fake Honda Dream lovingly referred to as the "Family Vehicle" in Saigon. Little Percy raced over hills and rice paddys and carried me the 2254 km to Ha Noi, the capital (I think) where I handed him over to Australian Ian who I hope is treating him with all the love and compassion deserved by such a humble [slightly gay] steed!!

It was only after he was out of my life that I discovered that there is only a bus towards Laos - no trains or boats or ox wagons - only busses!! I began to panic. I mean it was unbelievable - how dare they limit their transportation options? Dangnabbit. I wasn't taking any of it!

It dawned on me that hitch hiking was probably my best option but I was sternly warned not to do it alone so I began the hunt for company. I plastered posters around the city and on-line and became that annoying person that joins your table and disturbs your meal to pester you about things you couldn't possibly want.

I'd been in Ha Noi for almost ten days already and needed out. The only other person I knew who wasn't taking the bus was Rohan and he'd just purchased a bicycle...

It was over lunch on Tuesday that his friends led me to contemplate the cycle - no mention of course that he had actually done long distance cycling before or that he fitness levels resembled that of a Kenyan olympic sprinter. But the idea was there...

On Wednesday I awoke sold on the idea and roamed the streets in search of a worthy steed (I was hoping for pink or green or rusty), some luggage carriers and a bell (you can't have a bicycle without a bell). And then I was set - what more do you need??

Thursday (Yesterday I think) was departure day, and I woke up excited-to-the-point-that-you-almost-wet-yourself only to realise that there was no physical way to strap all my earthly belongings to my bike let alone pedal them over mountain ranges. Departure was delayed as I shipped 11.36 Kilograms of useless hogwash to mum in China and then delayed again as I discovered Teddy missing. Perhaps I shouldn't have put him in the shower... now everyone wants to cuddle him. Whore.

Post officing... enjoy mum!
About 34 km into yesterday's cycle Rohan taught me that bicycles have gears (I'm still a little perplexed by them though) - but after 80 something Km we pulled into Ho Bihn and celebrated life with a quality feast involving copious amounts of Com (rice) and tofu.

Today was a bit of a different story. It was about an hour into this mornings ride that I realized why most people invest in cushioned bicycle seats and why everyone obtains some level of fitness before attempting to cycle through mountain ranges and why you don't see anyone else with a giant Teddy bear strapped to their bicycle. I of course had acquired neither and of the latter I'm not too fond at present. I'm proud to say however that after today's 71 km cycle (At least 65 of those uphill), I've become a skilled walker of the bicycle and with my knees refusing to bend and my bum an unhealthy shade of whale skin blue, I've got to do it all again tomorrow. And the next day. And the and the one after that. Potentially for the next very very long time.

I said it before in the days of lonely motorbike breakdownages, but this is why most people take the bus... 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Get me to the Church on Time

It's recently been bought to my attention that I have a wedding in 3 weeks. Not mine. No. That would be more worrying (mostly because I plan to elope and you can't pre-plan elopage).

Despite functioning as my moral reasoning on a frequent basis over the past 14 years, I need to express my annoyance at both my friend's choice of location and especially the timing for her wedding - Koh Samui (Thailand) - April 3rd. Seriously?? Koh Samui? I was in the area in January. I'm now 2163 km away in Hanoi, Vietnam and I don't fly. Flying isn't good for you!

I've spent the last two days seeking hitch hiking companions to avoid the 90 odd hour bus journeys and failed - quite miserably really... my last emaily reply was this:


Sorry, when I read about your plans I immediately became worried for 
you. Do not do this hitching please.
Even if you are the fattest ugliest horniest woman in the world you
are asking nee begging for trouble.
You plan to hitchhike through a couple of countries where Asian women
are kidnapped and sold in to sexual slavery.
Your a white woman.  DO you want to be trafficed like a piece of meat?
Beaten and starved into submission repeatedly raped?  Used like a rag?
I don't think you want that kind of adventure.  
A rape kit is some equipment that a western police department uses to
gather evidence after a rape.

Good luck,

My newest steed... I'm absolutely terrified!!!
And I have decided I don't want any of that really - Asian food is far to good to be starved from. I really really don't.  So with three weeks to go to cross three countries I've done the most logical thing really I've just walked the streets of Hanoi and bought a good "new design bike" (definitely Chinese) my newest trusty steed. How I'm going to fit my massive bags, my massiver bear and bulging belly onboard is the first challenge and then it'll all be smooth sailing I'm sure... the route begins with some of the world's best traffic before hitting one of the world's most impressive mountain ranges.
Rohan, my bicycle buddy - he actually rides bikes and his bike's not even Chinese....

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

HANOI: It's always good to not be Dead.

Phong Nha... somewhere in Vietnam

It really is good to not be dead. I'm grateful for every minute of undeadliness and hope to maintain it for quite some time to come.Years even.

2254 km of epicness from Saigon, I've arrived in Hanoi. And despite the four flat tyres, the snapped swing arm, the dismantled chain guard, the destroyance of my shocks, the driving straight through a road block, the death of my battery and my spark plugs and my hooter, the getting pinned under my bike twice - once in the middle of the Ho Chi Minh highway - and the incessant rain, I've loved every second of it - every single second!!! I still can't actually believe it's over. I made it to Hanoi. Percy made it to Hanoi!

Driving with a gang has been amazing too. Coming down the Hai Van Pass brought saw the most spectacular sunset of my life and having people to share the incredibleness with was a must. As were the thousands of jaggered cliffs that littered the vast green grey terrain.  

Sunset at the bottom of the Hai Van pass
Every time we stopped to ask directions or recount near death experiences with cows and busses; school kids would flock to admire our dirty bikes, whiter skins, and Teddy

The final 15 km were the hardest of the trip. The roadworks had busses and trucks and bulldozers and livestock merged on a single lane pot-holed track where more motorbikes than there are cockroaches in Africa raced to random destinations carrying their families and fridges and goats. Only 5 km out of town I lost the gang and spent a couple of hours searching the old city for our preascertained finish line. But at 17-54 on a Sunday, with only 6 minutes to spare on happy hour beer, I pulled into Hanoi and parked my Percy alive - an accomplishment I still can't fathom!

Ian, new rider of Percy
Two days ago I sold my beloved scooter to Ian, the tallest Australian I've met in a while and he's just began the racing to Saigon to make a flight. I do hope Percy treats him nicely!

All I have left now are a few cuts, burns, scars and bruises as memories.

It's hard to believe that despite the stampedes of cows and cars and busses that have run at me I'm still alive  - I must have cheated death more times in Vietnam than any other country I've visited before. And it's not over yet either - I still need to flee the country - I'm not sure where to go from here - but it still won't be onto a bus... life's too short for busses!!!
Saying the final goodbye's in Hanoi...
please note how I hold two drinks in hand to try and cope
with the emotional torment

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Gang of Five : Bringing Terror to the Streets

With our street rep spreading far and wide, our little gang swelled in size and although many applied (everyone wants to be a part of a grisly gang with a ginormous Teddy bear) we settled on "The Five".  

We may not have been the fiercest, or the largest, or the fastest biker gang racing up Vietnam... but we were clearly the best and with 1117 km still to go we sent shivers down the spines of almost everything on the road (except for the truckies and busses and cyclists and toddlers and cows and suicidal chickens and cigarette smoking school kids and the dogs and pigs and overloaded motorbikes and bulldozers and donkey carters and rogue fruit falling from passing vehicles)

We left Hue as 5. 

Teddy Teddison, the world's dirtiest Teddy bear... proud owner f very sophisticated donated attire...
Adeena on the world's hardcorestest scooter, Percy

Lorenz, the German guy and Old Benjamin his humble steed
Ben, the token American and his used to be green Minsk, Old Buffalo

Leo, the French Canadian we called "Red"

Dave, the realer Canadian we called "Blue"

Friday, March 9, 2012

Diary of a Pretend-to-be-Biker : Wrong Turns

Sometimes it's worth doing the 20 km detour down the wrong dirt road full of overflowing sewerage pipes and angry police officers... sometimes it's those wrong turns that lead you to those exact people that you are meant to be meeting - the random strangers who are soon to become your own personalised biker gang...

The road to nowhere, somewhere, Central Vietnam

After a whole week of lonesome driving I'd resigned to believing I'd be finishing my motorbike escapades  alone - just me and Teddy and Percy and whatever Vietnam decided to throw at me... and I was okay with that. I'd broken down enough times to know I'd survive. But after leaving Hoi An, a place most people visit to suit up in tailored designer attire (I did my laundry, for me that was close enough) I happened to stumble across  the still unfathomable...

...It was all very surreal too. I was just breathing in the polluted ocean air [on the way back to the real road] when from nowhere,  below a ginormous buddha sat two bikers with a map stretched out. I slammed the brakes, meandered out of the way of a passing truck and the rest is history. We were three [and a Teddy bear].