Category Archives: Global adventures

Jordan: The Sands of Time

We found shelter for the night inside the crumbling walls of a crusader castle.  As dawn approached we made our descent, clamoring over rocks and sliding down cliffs of sandstone, there, hidden amidst towering hills we found the city of Petra.

The rising sun revealed rocks awash win a swirling mass of color, into which the ancient Nabataens had carved a huge city, complete with palaces, temples, tombs, houses and stables.   Time has diminished the definition of the buildings and their elaborate facades,  creating an effect like melting candle wax.   Ripples of sandstone in shades of blue, white, red and pink give Petra its color, creating a marbled effect that is most dramatic at sunrise and sunset when the rocks glow as if burning from a fire within.

For the first two hours we saw no one and wandered, awe-struck through the valleys. It was almost as if we had crossed into another dimension, where everything was slightly unfocused and dream-like.  It was the first time I had ever seen my friend Felix lost for words.

The sun started to heat up the desert and the effect of sleeping rough with little to eat or drink was beginning to take its toll.  Salvation came in the form of a Bedouin who invited us for tea. Insisting I ride the donkey, he led us to a sheltered spot by a cave. With a handful of twigs he soon had a crackling fire.  A little tea was added to the boiling water and a big bag of sugar.  The resulting brew was sickly sweet and very reviving.

The Sands of Time

The Nabataens started to arrive in the third century BC and  were soon policing the lucrative spice trade that passed through the area.  They also indulged in their passion for carving and their city grew out of the rocks, rapidly becoming the capital of a flourishing empire.  The city was eventually lost to the Romans in the second century AD and gradually diminished into obscurity.For hundreds of years Petra remained hidden from the outside world.  Set on the edge of a giant wadi (canyon) it is surrounded by rugged mountain ranges which protect and hide the city.  The Bedouins  who made their home in the caves of  the city were not eager to share its existence with outsiders, fearing that an influx of visitors would threaten their existence.  It would seem that their fears were justified, for in the mid-eighties most of Petras’ inhabitants were relocated to  a nearby village, although  many still make a living selling souvenirs, antiquated coins and skillfully filled bottles of sand.

Most visitors enter Petra through the Siq, a  two kilometer winding cleft in the rocks.  Sheer walls of sandstone rise up sharply, at times almost touching overhead as the path narrows to six feet in places.  At the end of the passage you emerge in bright sunlight and the Khazneh (Treasury Building) is revealed in all its splendor.  It is the finest and best preserved of all the buildings in Petra.

My friend , having  regained his power of speech  entered every rock carved temple and chanted om………. He received some rather puzzled looks that soon turned  to appreciation as the deep sounds reverberated around the walls and the acoustics of nature worked their wonder. Inside one  temple a  man seemed annoyed by Felixs’ chanting but as we walked away I realized he had just been waiting his turn, for his heartfelt rendition of the Hymn Jerusalem filled the valley.

The midday heat was intense and exhausting so we took shelter in a large goat-haired tent, known to the Bedouin as bayt ash-sha’ar (house of hair), and stretched out on the cushions for a siesta.  As the shadows grew long with the late afternoon sun, we  wandered back out into the ruins and came across a spring  and plunged in to be completely revived in its icy depths.

Petra is blessed with an abundant water supply, without which habitation would be impossible.  Eighty per cent of Jordan is desert, in parts stretching much further than the eye can see, creating optical illusions as it merges with the distant horizon.  Its beauty lies in its starkness and its silence.  There is almost a complete lack of vegetation and color, except in the spring when the desert comes alive with a profusion of wildflowers, including purple thistles, red poppies and black iris.

Wadi Rum

To the South of Petra lies Wadi Rum, a small Bedouin settlement with some of the most spectacular desert scenery in the world.  Millions of years ago explosions beneath the earth’s surface thrust up giant mounds of granite and sandstone, what remains resembles tidal waves frozen in time.  Like Petra the sandstone is predominantly pink although the colors are constantly changing as the sun moves overhead.  We met a guide named Mohammed who offered to drive us out to Sunset Rock and to a well  used by Lawrence of Arabia during the Arab revolt.    After a brief stop to meet his family and drink the obligatory cup of tea we arrived at Sunset rock and what was indeed a remarkable sunset.  The Well however turned out to be a rusty pipe that briefly emerged from the rocks and dripped.  It was a nice place to camp though so we built a fire  and slept under brilliant starlight.  We were woken early the next morning by a small Bedouin girl who seemed to be inviting us for tea.  We could see no form of life around us and wondered where she had come from, but as she led us around a hill we saw a large tent.

While successive civilizations have risen and fallen the lifestyle of the Bedouin has changed little over the centuries.  For many the only concession to modernization being the addition of a Landrover.  They are amazing people, adept at survival in such a harsh land.  The nomadic still roam the desert in search of grazing lands and water, knowing no borders, only the vastness of the desert.  The camel plays a vital role in sustaining life, resisting heat and dehydration it provides transport , milk , meat and clothing.  Bedouin hospitality is a ritual.  For people living in the desert it would be unthinkable to let a stranger pass without inviting them in, as any contact with the outside world is welcome.  Such hospitality extends to all Jordanians and we were always treated as honored guests.

The Ruined City of Jerash

The dry climate has helped to preserve a number of ancient sites where the ground is often littered with pieces of mosaic ,shards of pottery and occasionally flint tools .  The remarkable state of preservation of the Roman ruins at Jerash is due to their being covered in sand for hundreds of years.Situated just north of Amman it is considered to be one of the most complete of any Roman settlement in the world.  Only ten per cent of the city has been excavated, including baths, theaters, a giant forum and the colonnaded street flanked by two hundred and fifty towering columns.  The pavement is original and embedded with the marks of chariot wheels.  It’s impressive now and must have been incredible in its heyday.

The capital,  Amman  lacks the old world grandeur of  its neighboring capitals Jerusalem and Damascus. Its charm is due to an amiable atmosphere and friendly population.  There is a well-restored Roman amphitheater in the center, surrounded by a tree lined plaza and a number of coffee shops.  We would come here to enjoy the cool of the evening, passing the hours by playing backgammon and smoking apple tobacco from elaborate water pipes.

On a hill overlooking Amman there are the ruins of a second century AD castle and township.  Bedouins now graze their goats between the crumbling walls, oblivious to the sprawling mass that lies below them, as always untouched by the world changing around them .

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Meteora

There are few places in the world that evoke a sense of wonder like Greece. From ancient monuments to the mighty Gods, to the deep blue sparkle of the Aegean Sea that surrounds windswept islands where white washed houses hug the cliffs; to the  cosy tavernas that serve up homemade ouzo and crusty white bread with kalamata olives and pungent fetta cheese. While the lure of basking in the sun on a rugged island has always been irresistible, I finally managed on my last trip to Greece to drag myself away from the beach and head to the mountains. A picture spotted on a postcard had drawn me to the fabled monolithic rocks of Meteora where monks have long sought solace in the monasteries that perch like birds nests on top of them.

The bus wound higher and higher into the forested mountains and we were enveloped in a thick soupy fog as we crawled over the Koziakas Pass. It was after midnight  by the time we descended into the town of Kalambaka and I was battered by pelting rain as I stepped off the bus. Everything was closed and I wandered alone in the dark. I knew the town was nestled under the rocks of Meteora but I could barely see a few feet in front of me.  My spur of the moment decision to come here suddenly didn’t seem like such a good idea and I cursed myself for not having a guide book or at least some idea about where to stay. The road eventually gave way to a dirt track, a loud crack of thunder made me jump, and was followed by a brilliant flash of lightning that illuminated a small guest house crouched under a great big monster of a rock. I had found my bed for the night.

The rain had cleared by morning and stepping onto my balcony I  was all but surrounded by giant rocks. I say rocks, but that goes no where near capturing the enormity of these monoliths – some of which are 600 meters high and bizarrely enough have monasteries sitting on top. Meteora translates as ‘suspended in air’ and at one time there were 24 rock-top monasteries scattered through the valley, now just six remain and a few monks still call them home.

I followed a sign that said ‘pathway to Meteora’, and clamoured up the steep trail which traversed boulders and thick forest and finally emerged at a plateau. Before me the mighty rocks of Meteora rose like natural skyscrapers from the valley floor. A climbers dream with over 50 rocks to conquer. Some were tall and spindly, others were bent and twisted,  and a few had boulders balancing precariously on top, stone faces were so sheer that they looked like they had been sliced in half by a giant carving knife. They rise so abruptly from the plain that they seem to have been thrust through the earths surface, but were actually formed by gradual erosion over 60,000,000 years ago.

Meteora has been a stronghold of the orthodox east since the eleventh century. Hermits were the first to dwell amidst the rocks, living high in the caves and crevices. By the 14th century monks were climbing the stone towers  and building churches on top, enduring incredible hardship in their efforts to be closer to God.  Cut off from the rest of the world they indulged in a life of praying, fasting and chanting, with rope ladders providing the only access until the 1930’s.  These days access is easier, via stairs and tunnels carved into the rocks or bridges from the hills behind. Most people visit on tour buses or by car but I preferred to walk, approaching each rock and monastery slowly, enjoying the different perspectives and the all-encompassing silence. For the first couple of days the sky was dark and overcast and the rocks seemed cold and hard, almost menacing, but on the third day I woke to brilliant sunshine. Under a luminous sky the rich layers of colours in the rocks revealed themselves, streaks of yellow, pink and red; the hardness softened by wild grasses and ivy, and the rocks suddenly seemed more gentle, more friendly.

I visited Gran Meteora first,  the largest of the monasteries and was excited to hear chanting as I climbed the stairs, but was disappointed not to find monks, but rather a gift shop playing a CD. Somehow I hadn’t expected a shop or to see the guy at the till sending a text message. My Greek friend tells me that very few monks live here now, as tourism and asceticism make a poor mix. “They have turned Meteora into a supermarket”, he laments. He was here years before working on the production of Tomorrow never dies which saw Roger Moore (or more likely his stunt double) climb one of the stone faces. There were delta planes, helicopters, a crew of 200. “The monks went crazy”, he told me, “but they made a lot of money so they couldn’t say no”. Although Gran Meteora now operates chiefly as a tourist attraction it still provides a  fascinating insight into life in a religious order. The chapel is thick with the smell of holy incense, and burning candles and smoky oil lamps illuminate beautiful frescos and ancient artefacts.  One room is dedicated to skulls, bones and relics of various saints, while the museum has an interesting collection of relics, including some amazing old photos. One depicts a monk with a full  black beard dressed in flowing black robes and a  tall black hat. Staff in hand he is leading the Greek revolutionary fighters into battle and cuts an imposing figure.  Other photos depict the rocks covered in snow and swirling mists.

I came across a sign in the valley proclaiming, “Do not shout, respect the unequalled character of the place”,  and although thousands of tourists descend on  Meteora every year, people are remarkably quiet, it is a humbling place. The other monasteries are much smaller and less visited. Rousano is reached by climbing down a lush leafy path which passes through two giant boulders then crosses a bridge to the rock itself into which is carved a stone staircase. It now acts as a nunnery and the  courtyard is filled with brightly coloured flowers. While  the other monasteries are dark and austere, this one is bright and cheerful with a  woman’s attention to detail. The gift shop sells the usual iconography and religious paraphernalia but also lace embroidery worked by the nuns and mint tea cultivated from the garden.

After dark the main square in Kalambaka bustles with activity. Tables with checked table cloths spill onto the sidewalk and are filled with a mix of tourists and locals. Some of the rocks are illuminated by spotlight and on a clear evening appear to hover like ghostly apparitions above the town, a silent reminder of the extraordinary feats of nature and of man.

Donau Toba, Sumatra

Seventy four thousand years ago Sumatra was rocked by one of the biggest volcanic eruptions of all time. Anthropologists believe that the resulting dust cloud that covered the earth killed most of the planet’s population. From the mouths of hell sprang the tropical island paradise of Samosir, perched in the middle of Donau Toba the world’s largest crater lake.

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I travel by bus from the south of Sumatra, a long crazy night in which our driver, sporting an Elvis quiff and a purple satin shirt, has the radio cranked and sings enthusiastically for the whole journey. In what appears to be a nightly ritual, we also make frequent stops at the roadside karaoke bars where he croons Indonesian love songs while we all wait on the bus.

It’s a relief to arrive in Parapat, the gateway to Toba Lake, and I am just in time for the first ferry. We glide across the thermal waters, before us looms the mountainous island of Samosir, its peaks shrouded in mist. Covering an immense 1700 square kilometres Donau Toba is the largest lake in South East Asia, and Samosir, which is almost as big as Singapore, is the world’s largest island on an island.

It is a place of panoramic vistas, covered in sprays of bougainvillea, fields of sunflowers and dense banana groves. Traditional boat-shaped Batak houses with their enormous saddleback roofs and elaborate carvings line the shores of the lake. The Batak people who inhabit the island are descendents of an ancient war-like cannibalistic kingdom that was converted to Christianity by Portugese and Dutch Missionaries. The new religion was adopted with zeal and countless Church steeples poke out from the tropical foliage.

I rent a Batak house which sits like a beached hulk, just meters from the lake and is decorated with hand-woven blankets and tribal masks. It’s like being on a house boat, but without having to worry about sea sickness, and manages to be cosy despite its soaring ceiling.  These traditional stilt houses have a beautiful symmetry and are rich in symbology, featuring 3 levels of existence, the tall roof reaching to the gods, the middle part where the family lives, and the bottom part for animals and the mythological dragon. The tiny doorway is designed so you have to bow down to enter the house, thus paying respect to the people inside. The gables are decorated with carvings of serpents, lizards and birds and the side beams are adorned with large carvings of ‘singa’, a mythological lion with bulbous eyes which is said to radiate positive energy and will apparently shield me from disease and evil.  I have to say that I sleep incredibly peacefully.

I wake each morning and dive into the clear, glassy lake which is infinitely enticing with its soft water that is just cool enough to be refreshing. Life here centres on the lake. People wash themselves, their clothes and their dishes; children frolic; fishermen in tiny dug-out canoes ply the water, as they have done for centuries. Late one afternoon an angry black storm creeps across the lake, whipping it into a frenzy of waves.  By dusk the storm has blown itself out and leaves a swirling fog in its wake. I can just make out the shadow of a man washing in the lake; he sings a soulful lament, his haunting voice wafting like the mist across the water.

My house sits on the corner of the Tuk tuk peninsula which juts out of the eastern side of the island and overlooks a picturesque bay on one side and the vast expanse of the lake on the other. A tourism boom in the early 1990’s saw hotels and restaurants spring up all over Tuk tuk, but these days they are mostly empty and the island is quiet.

It is a peaceful and laid-back place where tourism is squeezed between daily chores; attending weddings; harvesting crops and drinking Tuak (palm wine,) a favourite past-time of the Bataks.  I am drawn into Orari restaurant one evening by the sign out the front which says, “Lake Toba Wine – maybe not the best but we try to be.” Bottles steeped with fruits and herbs line the bar, I choose one at random and the bar man pours me a glass. The sign is right, it’s not the best, but it is definitely palatable and has quite a kick which adds a slight weave to my walk home.

The Batak people are fun-loving, friendly and love to sing. The traditional music is folksy and rousing, and singing is a natural accompaniment to most activities; riding a motorbike; cooking; taking a bath in the river; and most enthusiastically, while drinking Tuak. I constantly find myself in random exchanges with people. As I walk down the street one day a woman calls out to me, “Hey you – I like your body, you not too fat, you normal, it’s good”. When I have a problem with the lights in my house I call the owner. He says, “I better call the electrician before he gets drunk.” He returns twenty minutes later and says, “Sorry, too late, he’s already drunk.” I am happy to make do with candle light.  One afternoon I chat with a local guide named Luca. I ask about the volcano that once lay beneath us, he shrugs his shoulders and says “That’s what the scientists say,” and proceeds to tell me the ‘real story’ of Toba lake. “A long long time ago a man caught a fish in a stream, but the fish talked to him and said don’t eat me because really I am a woman and if you save me I will become your wife, but you must never tell anyone I was once a fish. Sure enough the fish turns into a beautiful woman who bares him a son. One day, in a moment of anger he calls the boy a son of a fish and with this betrayal the woman becomes a fish again and weeps for every more, filling the lake with her tears.”

I rent a bright red automatic scooter, and set out to explore. My first stop is in Ambarita where the roadside market is brimming with hand woven blankets, miniature carvings of batak houses and hand tooled leather craft. On a hill behind the market a megalithic site set in a dark grove provides a silent testament to the island’s cannibalistic past.  The circle of 300-year-old stone chairs was once the conference area for Batak kings and a place for passing judgement on a criminal or enemy prisoner. At an adjacent site, the accused would be bound, and rubbed with chilli and garlic and then beheaded with a long knife. A local man shows me around and points out thespecial curved stone where the beheadings took place. He explains that the head would be thrown into the lake and the body cut into small pieces that were mixed with buffalo meat and boiled into a stew. “Fortunately,” he says, “we are now Christians and do not eat men any longer.”

Some of the island’s best preserved Batak houses are also found in Ambarita and are set up as an open-air museum which  incorporates another set of stone chairs built around an ancient banyan tree. The banyan is the tree of life for the Bataks and these majestic trees with their branches twisting and turning in every direction are found all over the island. Heading north I leave the lush rainforest, palms and banana plantation behind and find a sparser more mountainous landscape, with low lying areas planted with corn, rice and vegetables. Family tombs shaped like miniature Batak houses are so prolific that there seems to be no vista that does not incorporate at least one. Ancestor worship remains a strong custom on the island and the tombs are built above ground so that everyone can see and never forget. Some are quite small and simple, while others are huge and topped with large crosses and life-sized statues representing the departed.

I follow a rough and bumpy dirt track up into the mountains. The panoramic view allows me to appreciate the immensity of the crater and the cataclysmic explosion that caused it. Nature at its most furious has created a place of infinite beauty, peace and refuge, the island is the calm after the storm.

Return to Blue Lagoon

Today I went back to Turtle Island….. its been five years since I left this island paradise, but as I walked down the dock it was like I never left at all. Just like the old days Richard was waiting for me in a cart to take me on a tour of his gardens – his pride and joy.

Richard Evanson is the most amazing and inspiring man I have ever met, and it was thanks to him and his vision of creating a community owned resort in the remote islands  that I first came to Fiji. Richard had loaned the money to one of the island clans to build Oarsman’s Bay Lodge so that the village could have an income. Life improved dramatically with greater access to health care and schooling, but also created lifestyle issues for people who had always lived in a subsistence/barter economy, where everything was shared communally.  Working with the community was  an amazing experience but one fraught with challenges as I struggled to find a balance between preserving  indigenous culture with  the needs of tourists and running a financially viable business. Initially I was quite intimidated by Richard, he never went easy on me, but despite our occasional  disagreements he always supported me and came to be a true friend and an ally, and eventually I left Oarsman’s Bay and came to work with him at Turtle Island. I just came across this interesting article and video interview about sustainable tourism filmed while I was at Oarsman’s.

http://www.gatherenterprise.com/quicktime_video/fote_fiji_oarsmans_bay.mov

About Richard

Richard’s story could be a movie, he  made his millions in cable tv in the 60’s and lived the high life before getting  lost in a haze of alcohol. In the early 70’s he came to Fiji for a holiday and wound up at a bar in Nadi where someone asked if he wanted to buy an island.  “Why not” he said, and early the next morning he was on a small charter plane flying over the chain of volcanic islands known as the Yasawas.  He fancied himself as a castaway and as he spotted pristine Turtle Island surrounded by coral reef and an iridescent sea, it was love at first sight. Back on the mainland, the papers were quickly signed, and he bought a boat and  loaded it with beer, a generator, a small fridge and set sail.

He eventually reached the island and had just one day to enjoy himself before a ferocious cyclone hit and he had to tie himself to a tree so he wouldn’t blow away. For two long wet windy days the cyclone raged knocking down trees, sending coconuts flying at 60 miles an hour and huge waves crashing onto the beach. He vowed that if he survived he would never drink again.  And he never did!

He set about creating a home on the island and a couple of years later scouts came looking for a location to film the Blue Lagoon movie, and so it was that Brooke Shields and her eyebrows came to the island. After all the excitement of the movie set, things seemed awfully quiet once Hollywood left the island and Richard decided to turn it into a small exclusive resort. Over the years he planted hundreds of thousands of trees on the island which had been almost bare on his arrival, but these days has thick forests of iron wood, Honduran Mahogany and Eucalyptus. Guests are welcomed like family and utterly pampered for their entire stay and I have seen more guests than i remember weeping as they departed on the seaplane. People always ask me what is so special about Turtle Island, but I don’t think its something that I can put into words, its more of a feeling, an energy, a unique  magic. Of course – that’s the guest experience, for those of us working to maintain that magic (as I did in the 8 months I spent managing the resort) its a whole different story. But nevertheless leaving here, and leaving Fiji  was one of the hardest things I had ever done, and I shed more than a few tears myself as I climbed aboard the seaplane and flew to a new life.

Returning today brought back a lot of memories and emotions, but it was so wonderful to see Richard, and to meet his gorgeous two year old son and his new wife Sena (its his fifth or sixth marriage…. Richard approaches all areas of his life with gusto…)  First up on my island tour was the solar installation – 900 solar panels that will power the whole resort, it was a pretty awesome sight…..  Then on to the fruit and vegetable gardens, which have expanded in every direction, the harsh inhospitable Yasawan climate countered with irrigation channels fed by a sizeable dam he built a few years back. Shredded coconut husks keep the moisture in the soil and everywhere  I look there are vines flourishing with fat juicy tomatoes, crispy capsicum and 20kg watermelon, there are thick bulbs of fennel,  huge heads of cauliflour and brocoli,  and verdant leafy herbs. In a region where nothing much grows except for coconuts, papaya and banana these gardens are a true testament to one man’s iron will and steady determination – and again a  vision.

Richard’s story is part of the book I am writing about my time in Fiji, it’s a story that needs to be told.

Back to Fiji

Life is funny, one minute you are striding down a certain path, and the next, tragedy strikes  like a metaphorical avalanche and the path is swept away from under you. But all the cliches are true…. out of the darkness comes the light…..as one door closes another opens…… And so it was that a disaster on the harsh rocky island of Gran Canaria  in Spain seven years ago would change my life in ways I never could have imagined.

Fate, and the trade winds blew me to Fiji where I landed a job on a remote island in the Yasawas.  Here I worked with a local, tradition-bound community domineered by a powerful autocratic chief, and answered  to a wealthy and eccentric American billionaire (owner of the island where Blue Lagoon was filmed). It was a crazy time typified by cyclones, a  coup, and suffocating heat, of sabotage and skullduggery….where cheeky spirits roamed by land and sea, and tales of cannibalistic forebears were shared over many a bowl of kava.   But what i remember most is the laughter, the singing, the awe inspiring beauty and the big beautiful smiles of the Fijians who welcomed  me to their island home.

Two years passed and my life became totally entwined with the community….All my friends told me how lucky I was to live on a coral fringed island, but paradise is a lonely place and slowly island fever took a grip – it was time to go.  Leaving was one of the hardest things I have ever done, but  knew I would come back, Fiji was a part of me and I had come to love these islands fiercely and unconditionally . And now, five years later here I am. Oddly enough, it is like nothing has changed, and memories, like the incoming tide, roll in relentlessly. My time here is brief – just one month –  as  I ‘resort sit’  Navutu Stars, a boutique resort owned by my amazing Italian friends Maddalena and Freddy. Actually, the timing has been extraordinary, as I am writing a book about my time in Fiji but had lost the freshness of the experience and had been thinking of ways I could return – when out of the blue Madda called and asked me to come.

I am remembering so well the isolation, and the peacefulness, it seems so incredibly still after the chaos of Bali and it has taken me a while to adjust to the pace of Fiji time. The rhythm of life is so slow here, but this is the magic.

http://www.gatherenterprise.com/quicktime_video/fote_fiji_oarsmans_bay.mov

A different side of Singapore

Singapore, a gleaming metropolis of soaring skyscrapers, manicured gardens, and people in suits; where shopping malls are supersize, electronics are truly king, and chewing gum is illegal. I have passed through the city many times, but never considered it as more than a brief stop on my way somewhere else. Now I have a three-day visa run and am determined to get a glimpse into life beyond the shiny facade. I catch a bumboat to Pulau Ubin, a small island that is home to one of the last remaining kampoengs (traditional villages in Singapore).

I rent a bicycle and pass through palm groves and rubber plantations and soon find myself in thick rainforest; sunlight peeps and teases through the leaves, interspersed with drizzly rain. It is disgustingly humid and I feel like I am trapped in a steam bath, the gentle rises in the road have me pedaling madly and I regret not paying the extra for a mountain bike. A giant − almost komodo size − lizard stalks across the road in front of me, and monkeys swing through the canopy high above. Eventually I come to the Chek Jawa wetlands, a conservation area that is home to Singapore’s richest ecosystems. The timber boardwalk starts on a pretty boulder strewn beach, and winds around a seagrass lagoon. In the shallows I spot cowrie shells, shrimp, star fish and a pair of tiny seahorses. It leads on through giant mangroves and mud mounds, built by the illusive mud lobster, then back onto a path through dense coastal forest. I reach the parking area and find that it has been overrun by monkeys, one perches on the seat of my bike another sits in the wicker basket. Thunder rolls in the distance and the sky has turned black. I really don’t want to get caught in a tropical storm and once I regain possession of my bike I pedal furiously, passing small farm houses surrounded by fruit orchards, trees laden with ripe durian and fields of tropical flowers. I arrive back at the kampoeng with its quaint houses and Chinese lanterns, just as the rain sets in. I find shelter in a quirky restaurant swamped in pot plants and twisting vines and wait out the storm. It’s dark by the time I get back on the boat and the bright twinkling lights of the city beckon across the water. The natural jungle of old Singapore is left behind and I am soon back in the concrete jungle that is modern Singapore. The bus passes through suburbs filled with colonial mansions and then right through the heart of Geyland, the vibrant and garish red light district with sleazy massage parlors, night markets, and xxx girly bars with pumping music.

Little India
Refreshed and showered I head out into the labyrinth of streets that make up Little India which is buzzing with all the trappings and trimmings of the Southern Indian Tamil Culture. The streets are rowdy and chaotic with hawkers selling garlands of yellow flowers and kitch Hindu iconography; Bollywood music blares out from loud speakers. I take a seat in a sidewalk cafe and am soon eating aloo gobi, palak paneer and chapatis, washed down with a mango lassy. The air is thick with the smell of cardamom, and women glide by sheathed in bright saris and laden with gold jewelry. I wander past ornate temples swathed in garish colour and am overcome with nostalgia for my days spent traveling in India. I am easily lured into a costume jewelry shop filled with sparkling adornments, and eventually leave with a bag filled with gaudy earrings, hair trinkets and jingly jangly anklets.

The Evolution Gardens


 

Located at the famous Botancial gardens, This 1.5 hectare area provides a journey through time and depicts the evolution of life through the ages. The entrance is marked by a column of petrified trees and the path leads through different areas, starting with the barren, desolate ‘Lifeless Earth’ 4,600 million years ago. Onwards through time, I pass prehistoric plants and trees that look like something out of a sci fi film, as well as giant dinosaur footprints, and a magnificent grove of Cycad palms, modern survivors from the Jerassic era. Then on through the first flowering plants that sprang from the earth 144 million years ago.

Kampoeng Glam
I have just a few hours left and one item remains on my agenda, and that is to visit Kampoeng Glam – the heart of the Muslim community with streets named Arab, Kadahar and Bhagdad. The breathtaking Sultan Mosque acts as a landmark; it’s design was influenced by the Taj Mahal and it is composed of a mesmerizing swirl of minarets and turrets topped with a shiny golden dome. A pedestrian street lined with tall palm trees leads up to the mosque and the area is imbued with a quiet, lazy charm. I spend my last hour exploring the alleyways and small shops filled with spices, Persian rugs and rolls of shimmering silks and rich brocades. And then my time is up, and its with more than a little regret that I make my way to the airport. A city that I had dismissed as boring and soulless has turned out to be multi faceted and endlessly fascinating

Travel Stories

When I was 21 I left Australia strapped into a giant purple backpack…… I wanted to go everywhere and see everything and my quest took me around the world, from the steamy jungles of Mexico, to the pyramids of Guatemala, and hidden surf beaches in El Salvador. Travels through North America led me to the icy mountain peaks of Canada, and the ancient red wood forests of northern California, then to Hollywood and Venice Beach and a summer tour with the Grateful Dead. From New York I flew to South America and travelled by land from the coke hazed streets of Santa Marta Colombia, across the mountains through Equador and Peru. I saw the sunrise over Machu Pichu and watched pink flamingos dance in a bright red lake in midst of the vast salt planes of Boliva. There was a gut churning flight over the Nazca lines, and the discovery of a desert strewn with mumified bodies (complete with hair and nails) and an awestruck moment watching the sun set and the full moon simultaneously rise over the Valley of the moon in Chile. Across the world, the rosy hued hidden city of Petra in Jordan revealed its secrets, and long summer days were spent exploring the rocky churches of he surreal valleys of Goreme in Turkey. I rode a donkey through the valley of the kings and lost my heart in Istanbul, the magical city that straddles Europe and Asia. There were long cold winters in London and a long term affair with Italy – with its streets of marble, ornate fountains, craggy coasts and beautiful food. Asia called and a dream came true with the rising sun over Angkor Wat in the jungles of Cambodia. There were long slow boat rides through the rivers of Laos and hikes through remote mountains in the north of Thailand, and then there was India in all its colouful chaos, a country like no other, more an experience than a destination. After 15 years wandering the globe I washed up on a beach in the fiji islands. For the next two years travel writing was replaced by an altogether more serious and stationary job managing a resort on a remote island. These days I live in Bali and spend my time writing about food and luxury villas, I miss my days of wild adventure, but you cant carry around a backpack forever! I still travel when I can – Indonesia has thousands (17,000 in fact) islands to explore which should keep me busy.