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

Monday, August 27, 2012

Life's a Journey

They say life’s a journey.

And so far it’s been quite a trip – learning to crawl becomes learning to walk, learning to walk becomes learning to do so without being hit by traffic or roaming elephants or falling off a cliff. You progress and learn how to use a toilet and read and write (assuming of course that by reading this you’re all literate… if anyone actually reads this trash). You progress through school and learn the basics of physics and math and languages and geography and history and art and begin to develop a personality and you learn how to trust and make friends and how to love and hate.

When the foundation’s been set, you learn how to make difficult choices like what and where to study or whether or not to grow up. Some get married straight away and sprout a family, a white picket fence and some llamas. Others start climbing a corporate ladder and some try and produce an empire or become dictators or assassinate [or lick] royals. Some become doctors and lawyers and actuaries and psychiatrists while others become toilet cleaners and Celine Dions and gypsies.    

Last night a friend said to me:
“Can I ask a slightly random question? And slightly existential:
are you searching for something?”

And I had to think about that for a while. What was I searching for…

For those who go through 300 years of med school, have you arrived when you’ve finally graduated? Or is it only when you become specialized? Or is it only when you’ve become the best?

For those who have families, have you arrived on your wedding day? Or at your first house owning? Or at the birth of your first child? Or is it only when they’re potty trained or graduated or sprouting grandchildren?

Do celebrities ever arrive? Or dictators ever conquer enough? Do archeologists only find success in uncovering mammoth ancient ruins? Do cleaners ever get things clean enough? Do travelers ever see enough of the world or endure enough adventures?

Can you ever have enough friends? Earn enough money? Find enough time? Sproot enough offspring? Get enough ticked off your bucket list ( Find enough happiness?

A couple of weeks ago I found myself being potty trained all over again – learning how to use a pump toilet. Then I found myself learning to walk again – it’s a different kind of ground on board a sailboat. I had to learn again how to keep meals down while the boat bounces about on rolling waves and every time I go ashore it begins again because the land seems to constantly shift beneath my feet. I’ve gone from pretend-to-be grown up to an infant in days. 

I’ve thought about it a lot over the years – but last night’s question really made me ponder. I know I’m definitely not just gypsying about to escape real life or run away from responsibilities, but what is it I’m searching for? It’s like I’m chasing something that doesn’t even exist.

This is probably far far and further too deep for a Monday morning in the office/ on the commute/ in a space station/ lazing in bed or on a beach/ wherever you may be… but I really am curious how anyone ever really knows that they’ve arrived? While I’m still frivolously happy plottering about this incredible world – meeting amazing people, seeing incredible beautifulnesses, sampling foreign cuisines, learning new skills and licking foreign artifacts – but where and when does it all end? How do you know it’s time to end one and begin a new chapter?  

Life’s a journey all right, but where does it end?

.... THE END.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Abolished by a Sultan[a]

It's not the first time I've been awakened by the police, but this time was different - this time the Sultan himself had ordered them to get rid of us...

Finally, after 6 weeks of dust, sweat and [painted] tiers, the day arrived for us to put the Fiddler where she belonged - back in the water - a boat yard is no place for a sailing vessel of her distinction.

Finally being hoisted up from our birth in the Kudat boat yard

Evidently I'm better at getting paint on my face than the boat
Oh the exceitedment of finally becoming a sea gypsy
We had to say goodbye to some friends, the cat, not the captain
and found some new friends aboard
But it was time to finally launch into the ocean
The boys had just about become permanent residents of  Kudat, which made an embarking party all that more necessary. So, with a boat load of vegetarian dishes and fellow boat yard dwellers and painters and friends, we celebrated our last night as boat people in style before waking up sailors.

There were party hats and everything
Fiddler, finally out on the water
Teddy taking up his place in the pilot house, he may even be a better driver than I am
It was great to finally feel that ocean breeze and see the sails in all their splendor and be on the move again and... I interrupt this sentence to blaggggggghhhh - Port side and I have become well aquainted... In fact it took only 4 hours and 24 minutes for my first vomit, and I repeated that another 18 times before first light. I think (although I may have confused their facial expressions with disgust) that the rest of the crew are quite impressed by my projectile vomiting abilities and jealous that I get to detox so effortlessly!

With the morning came a perfect sunrise over Mt Kinabalu and calm seas and life was all as it should be - sailing's an incredible way to travel when the ocean behaves!

Brunei seemed a logical first destination given that we'd be needing close on 2000 liters of fuel. So we wrong directioned 189 nautical miles.

Unfortunately we arrived at the same time as Hari Raya (Muslim new year, the holiday that comes after a whole month of Ramadan fasting), which was great for chanting mosques and fireworks, but bad for fuel!

We sailed up the Brunei river in the name of exploration and anchored in a quiet river segment to avoid being hit by crazy water taxi drivers. It was a pretty spot and also happened to be right across from his imperial highness, the Sultan's, palace.

So when the Sultans personal police representatives kindly requested our rapid relocation on Sunday morning, we probably should have been expecting them. Although it was hard not to stifle a giggle as they informed us that "The Sultana has asked that you leave immediately". So we did. Technically we were running from a raisin...

We carried on all the the way back down stream to the yacht club and then, because we could, we slipped past immigration and we carried on all the way back to Labuan, Malaysia where basic necessities like beer and cigarettes (no mom, I don't smoke) abounded along with Indian food and livelihood and while I'm sure that Brunei is an awesome country, it's really nice to be back in Malaysia land! Even if we have to head back again at the end of the week. And this time I'm going to actually attempt to lick the Sultan[a].

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Becoming a Vegetarian : The Bottom of the Food Chain

For 8 days, 8 hours and 16 minute I've resided at the bottom of the food chain. I've become a vegetarianist.

What used to be dinner:
Hanoi, Vietnam... and no, I didn't actually eat this...
Now feasts on  me:

And I'm sure you're thinking that I'm overreacting, but it took less than 3 days to get this:

And there's nothing that quite makes you reconsider your life choices as a good chomp at your man size calves...but I did get a free tetanus shot and antibiotics and pain killers out of the indecent (maybe even free rabies) and they say the best things in life are free...

After all, I came to Borneo to be a vegetarian, and a vegetarianist I shall at least attempt to be. 

Along with my new found [mandatory] love for veggies has come other lifestyle changes too:
(because if you're going to change, you may as well do it drastically)

Some of them temporary:

A vast increase in luggage

Reverting back to conventional transport - it broke down an hour later. It didn't get fixed!
And some of them long term:
 (and by this I mean months... not days or hours - MONTHS!)

I'm no longer a homeless gypsy

 I no longer have only a dirty Teddy for company

I no longer lurk in brothel-like accommodations
That is actual poo running down the pipe of our 'delux' en-suite bathroom in Uzbekistan
An email I received a couple of months back made me reroute my quest for Spain land (

And led me to a life of luxury (albeit currently in a boat yard) aboard my new home, the Fiddler

She's headed West, via South Africa, to the Caribbean (which is only a minor detour really).

And aboard her I will hopefully learn the art of sailing and deck handing and overcoming sea sickness and see a world of beautifulnesses that few have the opportunity to see .

And even though I'm required to be a vegetarian whilst onboard (which I'm trying out properly - if you're going to try something, you may as well give it a real go) it's an incredible opportunity I couldn't possibly pass up.

And it gets better too, the crew's amazing and they don't even slightly appear to be human traffickers or psycho-killers

Captain Kirk's the bearded wonder at the back, and Jim's  the crazy face at the front
The rest have been hard at work painting, scraping, washing and ensuring I won't be shipwrecking a second time in a year 
And that's a lot of change rolled into one, but exciting things lay ahead and if I can survive 8 days as a vegetarian without even being a little bit dead(apart from the hole in my leg), I think I'll be okay - now I just have to adapt to a life of luxury

And seeing as it's just gone 02h30 I really should be getting to bed - today's [hopefully] launch day.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Shipwrecked... Marooned... Destined for Greatnesses

From left to right: South Africa (Adeena), America (Jon), Netherlands (Luke) Czech Republic (Helena), Estonia (Tom)

Marooned on a deserted island at sunrise… our final liters of water beguiling us. Netherlands had suffered hallucinations all night, his feet ripped by coral, his leg swollen from an unfortunate collision with a jellyfish. Czech Republic had heat stroke. America and Estonia weren’t in good repair either; I struggled to perform the basic skill of standing. It had been pouring with rain all night and we were all exhausted.....

Only ten days earlier we’d sat staring into the islandly abyss as the sun ducked behind a distant land and we’d decided we needed a boat. 

It turns out boats are pretty expensive – who knew? And that’s why we begged, borrowed and bought everything we needed to build one. We figured a day or two of hard labour would have us sailing in no time, but 8 days of sweat and toil later we were finally ready. Or at least we thought we were.

We decided we’d sail all the way into Thailand and, because there’s no way to legally do this on a self-constructed raft; we appropriately named the vessel ‘The Illegal Immigrant.’ And she was beautifully immigrantish.

We sailed and paddled and swam and visited beautiful islands and life was perfect! Surreally perfect! Until about 4pm that was… At 4 the winds picked up. Czech told us she kept hearing snapping noises – we assured her we were fine, perfectly perfectly fine. 

And then we watched our first barrel float away.

I dived in and chased it across the sea and when I finally reached it I realized there was no possible way I could actually bring it back and, worse – I realized the current was dragging us into an infinite harbor wall… the waves were crashing violently against the wall and our little Immigrant didn’t stand a chance. With a barrel gone there was no steering; we had twenty minutes tops to abandon ship.

A golden island beach glistened in the distance and so, with all our belongings tied to us, with all the food and water we could carry, and with a make shift life jacket keeping Czech afloat, we started the swim. A good two and a half hour swim [- sing- talk- do anything to keep our minds off the incessant swimming] later we were battling the coral and dragging our belongings onto the shore.

Excitement and amazement as we reached the shore alive!
And that wasn’t the end of it either… the storm was closing in fast and our island held nothing but rocks and trees and crabs and sand and so, using sticks and ropes and the remains of our sail, we constructed a shelter and a fire and huddled together trying desperately to warm ourselves and recuperate.

We drifted in and out of sleep as the wind howled and the torrents poured down and lightning flashed and crabs attacked our toes and by sunrise we were desperately plotting our escape.

Netherlands and I etched ‘SOS’ ‘HELP’ into the sand while Estonia and Czech tried to flag down passing fisherman and America tried to reach civilization. But nobody paid any attention to us as we yelled and waved and whistled and every time hope glistened, it turned and fled in the wrong direction.

Just before noon we watched a skipper pulling around the corner with a very fatigued America onboard. He’d rounded our island, swam to the next, walked through the middle of that one, and found a small private resort with a boat… Our rescue boat. We were saved!

Our rescue boat
They returned us to the realer world a lot faster than we’d left it. where we all ventured off in search of new adventures [And the hospital].

And it's amazing how life brings you around in circles, but today, 6 months later, I'm back in Malaysian waters, building a new sort of boat... Let's hope this time's a little [or a lot] less shipwrecky!

For the very professional photos of the story, visit